New Study Links Exercise To Better Self-Control

Research appearing recently in the peer-reviewed journal Behavior Modification shows people engaged in a tailored physical activity intervention demonstrate improved self-control.

“There’s a particular type of task called ‘delay discounting’ that presents individuals with a series of choices between ‘smaller/sooner’ and ‘larger/later’ rewards,” said Michael Sofis, a doctoral student in applied behavioral science at the University of Kansas, who headed the study. “It’s something we all experience in our lives. Do you want a little money now — or wait and get a lot of money later? The degree to which one chooses that smaller/sooner reward is called impulsivity, and that has been linked to obesity problems, gambling and most forms of substance abuse.”

According to Sofis, a change in one’s ability to value future events might keep maladaptive behavior in check and increase the likelihood of making healthy choices. He designed a pilot study, and a subsequent larger study, to see if exercise could trigger changes in delay discounting.

“There’s a lot of neuroscientific evidence that suggests mood-altering effects of physical activity could change how you make decisions,” said Sofis. “There are a variety of proposed biological and neurological mechanisms and different effects for people with different genetic profiles linked to mental health issues. Studies say if I have a genetic profile linked to higher rates of depression and anxiety, I’m more likely to get benefits from physical activity.”

Sofis and KU co-authors Ale Carrillo and David Jarmolowicz recruited participants and instructed them to walk, jog or run laps on a track at “individualized high and low effort levels” and recorded participants’ own perceived effort.

“We wanted to create an individualized, but still standardized approach,” Sofis said. “We had people rate their perceived effort on a scale of six to 20. Six would be just sitting on a couch — and 20 would be maximal exertion. We’d start them at levels of eight and 10, respectively. The idea is that we’d slowly shape them up to higher effort levels. For each person, the amount that they’re exerting is going to relate to amount they’re going to enjoy it.”

Participants’ perceived exertion was established before the study to establish a baseline measure, treatment was tracked for seven to eight weeks, and participants were also asked to self-report maintenance of increased exercise for an additional month. Delay discounting was tested before, during and after treatment, and during maintenance using a standardized 27-item delay discounting task called the Monetary Choice Questionnaire.

The researchers found statistically significant improvements in delay discounting were evident not only during the treatment phase of increased exertion but also that improvements were maintained a month afterward for the group.

“Our study is the first, to our knowledge, that shows maintained changes in delay discounting at follow-up,” Sofis said. “In our study, 13 of 16 participants kept their improved self-control.”

Sofis said the research helps strengthen emerging evidence that delay discounting can be altered. Due to links between discounting and many clinical issues, Sofis suggested that researchers and clinicians alike should attend to discounting as a treatment target.

“This is becoming important as a clinical treatment target,” he said. “If you could measure one outcome and potentially see a change, you should be able to see myriad other changes at once.”

For people showing problems with impulsivity or self-control, Sofis said the takeaway message is simple: Exercise could help.

“I had people of all different ages, BMIs, incomes and mental-health levels, and these studies suggested that nearly every single person at least improved their delayed discounting to some degree,” he said. “If anyone just exercises, it’s likely you will show some improvements. More evidence is needed to draw definitive conclusions, but it’s very encouraging to see people improving. Just show up and give it a go — it seems like people do improve. The encouraging part is we had individuals that were walking the whole time, people in their 50s or 60s, and people in their 20s who were very fit and running, it didn’t seem to matter. Nearly everyone did improve.”

Currently, Sofis is developing a smartphone application, dubbed “Your620,” allowing people to record exercise and delay-discounting changes, and hopes to hear from people interested in the app. He plans to earn his doctoral degree in May from KU, then look for postdoctoral research opportunities where he can perform further research on delay discounting.

Mother’s Psychiatric Diagnosis No Threat To Baby’s Health

Depression, panic disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder represent no threat to the health of pregnant women or their babies, although there may be slight risks associated with medications used to treat those conditions, according to new Yale study appearing Sept. 13 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

“I think a major take-home message is that women are not harming their babies if they have one of these psychiatric conditions,” said lead author Kimberly Yonkers, professor of psychiatry, epidemiology, and obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences, as well as director of the Center for Wellbeing of Women and Mothers.

The Yale team followed 2,654 women at 137 clinical practices in Connecticut and Massachusetts to assess the impact of psychiatric disorders on pregnancy outcomes.

They did not find that maternal or neonatal outcomes were worse in the women who had panic disorder or generalized anxiety disorder compared to women without these conditions. They found that maternal use of benzodiazepine, commonly prescribed for panic and general anxiety disorder, led to slightly lower birthweight, and their babies needed additional ventilator support in 61 of 1,000 cases. Use of a common class of antidepressants known as serotonin reuptake inhibitors also shortened gestation by 1.8 days. Antidepressants were linked to hypertensive diseases in 53 out of 1000 pregnancies and led to more cases of minor respiratory interventions after birth.

“Many women require treatment with these medications during pregnancy, and these findings do not suggest they should discontinue treatment,” Yonkers said. “Instead, women should work together with their doctors to find the lowest possible dosages and adhere to good health habits like healthy diet and exercise and avoidance of cigarettes and alcohol.”

Heather S. Lipkind of Yale was senior author of the study, which was funded by National Institutes of Health. Yale’s Kathryn Gilstad-Hayden and Ariadna Forray are co-authors of the study.

NASA Concerned By 75,000-Mile-Wide Hole Appearing On The Sun

A huge spot has appeared on the sun that could send dangerous solar flares down to Earth.

The sunspot, dubbed AR2665, is 74,560 miles (120,000 kilometres) wide – big enough to be seen from Earth.

Experts have warned that the spot is large enough to produce ‘M-class’ solar flares, which can cause radio blackouts on Earth, knock out communications satellites and create radiation storms.

 

This sunspot is the first to appear after the sun was spotless for 2 days. Like freckles on the face of the sun, they appear to be small features, but size is relative: The dark core of this sunspot is larger than Earth as shown by this graphic

Nasa’s Solar Dynamics Observatory first detected the huge spot last week, and it appears to have lingered through to this week.

Sunspots are darker, cooler areas on the surface of the sun, caused by interactions with the sun’s magnetic field.

They tend to appear in regions of intense magnetic activity, and when that energy is released, solar flares and huge storms erupt from sunspots.

Such a storm could create stunning auroras around the world, as well as play havoc with power grids, potentially causing blackouts in some areas.

In a statement, Nasa said: ‘A new sunspot group has rotated into view and seems to be growing rather quickly.

‘It is the first sunspot to appear after the sun was spotless for two days, and it is the only sunspot group on the sun at this moment.