THURSDAY, Oct. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Clenching your muscles may help boost your willpower to achieve certain goals or resist temptations such as unhealthy desserts, a new study suggests.

The study included volunteers who were faced with a number of self-control challenges, such as submerging their hands in an ice bucket, consuming a healthy but foul-tasting vinegar drink, deciding whether to view disturbing information about Haiti earthquake victims and donate money, or making food choices.

"Participants who were instructed to tighten their muscles, regardless of which muscles they tightened -- hand, finger, calf or biceps -- while trying to exert self-control demonstrated greater ability to withstand the pain, consume the unpleasant medicine, attend to the immediately disturbing but essential information, or overcome tempting foods," wrote Iris W. Hung, of the National University of Singapore, and Aparna A. Labroo, of the University of Chicago.

However, muscle clenching only helped when the choice matched the participants' goals (such as a healthy lifestyle) and only helped at the moment when they faced the self-control dilemma, the study authors found.

The study findings were released online in advance of publication in an upcoming print issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.

"The mind and the body are so closely tied together [that] merely clenching muscles can also activate willpower," the researchers concluded. "Thus simply engaging in these bodily actions, which often result from an exertion of willpower, can serve as a non-conscious source to recruit willpower, facilitate self-control, and improve consumer well being."

More information

The Nemours Foundation offers tips for teaching children self-control.