The aim of this study was to test the hypothesis that exercise improves executive control. We compared the performance of physically active and passive young participants in two versions of the stop signal task: a strategic (more executive) and a standard version. The results showed that active participants were more efficient than passive at inhibiting a response in the strategic version, suggesting that (1) physical exercise appears positively associated with improved cognitive control in healthy young participants, adding to evidence gathered in children, aging and clinical populations; and that (2) the strategic version of the stop signal task constitutes a more sensitive task than executive tasks previously used. Although the data point out a link between physical activity and executive control, they also have potential practical implications for health authorities and the general public by strengthening the view that exercise, beyond its physical health benefits, also has positive effects on cognitive functioning. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.