Willpower is a Muscle?

I know what and where my muscles are.

Believe me. I’ve been to the new Body Pump release twice this week. (Jumping lunges? Dang!)

So I was surprised to learn, via a Splendid Table podcast, that scientists say willpower is a muscle that can be strengthened through exercise, just like biceps and glutes.

(source: Pinterest)


The author of the book that sparked the discussion also shared that:

Willpower is fueled by glucose, and it can be bolstered simply by replenishing the brain’s store of fuel. That’s why eating and sleeping- and especially failing to do either of those-have such dramatic effects on self-control (and why dieters have such a hard time resisting temptation).

Baumeister’s latest research shows that we typically spend four hours every day resisting temptation. No wonder people around the world rank a lack of self-control as their biggest weakness.

That’s fascinating!

Apparently, the science of willpower goes back to a study in which kids were asked to make a choice. They could get one marshmallow immediately. OR, they could wait 15 minutes and have two marshmallows.

The study found (at the time) that kids who waited were healthier decades later.

But the same study did not correlate overweight or unhealthy adults with a lack of willpower.

IN SHORT: willpower is a key piece of health, but can’t be to blame as the only factor. Overweight people (duh) aren’t overweight because they don’t say no to things. Just like healthy people don’t have 100% success at overcoming temptation.

This was a really interesting topic, and it made me think that willpower needs to be exercised in conjunction with everything else we do. Go to the gym AND work on your posture. Eat whole foods AND remember to floss.

It all adds up.


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  1. says

    If only we could take willpower supplements or shakes. But willpower IS one of those things where if you get the ball rolling, it rolls easier each day, and eventually turns into a habit — hopefully a good one…

  2. says

    This is really interesting, but I completely believe it. When I go to the gym on a consistent basis, everything in my life seems to be a little bit easier – saying no to that second glass of alcohol alcohol, making healthy eating decisions, or sticking to a budget. I have always found that the times I have gotten in trouble with overspending have corresponded perfectly with times where I was in a workout rut and engaging in a lot of unhealthy habits. Maybe I am reading too much into it, but it seems to make sense, at least in my case. Thanks for posting!

    • says

      I agree – when I am going to the gym or working out regularly, it makes saying “no” to the sweets, etc. so much easier. Right now I’ve been running a lot. I know water and gatorade (post-run, anyway), are my best beverage choices, so that’s what I’ve been going with. I am still having some sweets in the evning, just not as much!

  3. says

    I REALLY appreciate that you explained this part, “willpower is a key piece of health, but can’t be to blame as the only factor.”

    I feel like so often we want one answer to solve all of our health problems, but it is certainly a complex issue with a LOT of variables.

    And, it is so interesting to think of willpower as a muscle to be exercised. We don’t get down on ourselves if we fail to lift a certain weight at the gym, but we get down on ourselves if we make a bad choice by giving in to a temptation. If we looked at it as a muscle to be exercised, we might think, “that’s ok, I’ll do better next time.”

    So much to think about…

  4. says

    jump lunges are SUCH a beast. I put them in the (almost as hated) same category as burpees. when they pop up in my fitness classes, I know I’m gonna be hurtin’!

    and I adore that quote. I was just considering matting and framing it for a room in my house. :)

  5. says

    I love the statement “willpower is fueled by glucose” because I 100% believe it. Whenever we eat intuitively and listen to our body’s hunger/satiety cues we avoid dieting and empower our own body to take care of it’s needs. So much easier to sustain long-term than a diet!!!

  6. says

    I totally believe it! I also think this is why most people find temptation hardest at night. We’ve spent all day making choices and turning down temptations that we want to just lay back and give in for once.

  7. says

    Would I rather resist temptations with willpower or would I rather just not experience temptations in the first place? I’d rather not be tempted at all.

    I see calling on willpower as a way of managing a problem rather than an actual solution. My solution was to change my negative eating behaviours with the help of a cognitive behaviour therapist.

    I do agree with the author that more than your body needs a workout. To change my habits, I had to retrain my brain with new thoughts, which required a lot of exercise.


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