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J Appl Physiol (1985). 2012 May;112(9):1612-9. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.01365.2011. Epub 2012 Mar 1.

Aerobic exercise reduces neuronal responses in food reward brain regions.

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Kinesiology Department, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, California 93407, USA.


Acute exercise suppresses ad libitum energy intake, but little is known about the effects of exercise on food reward brain regions. After an overnight fast, 30 (17 men, 13 women), healthy, habitually active (age = 22.2 ± 0.7 yr, body mass index = 23.6 ± 0.4 kg/m(2), Vo(2peak) = 44.2 ± 1.5 ml·kg(-1)·min(-1)) individuals completed 60 min of exercise on a cycle ergometer or 60 min of rest (no-exercise) in a counterbalanced, crossover fashion. After each condition, blood oxygen level-dependent responses to high-energy food, low-energy food, and control visual cues, were measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging. Exercise, compared with no-exercise, significantly (P < 0.005) reduced the neuronal response to food (high and low food) cues vs. control cues in the insula (-0.37 ± 0.13 vs. +0.07 ± 0.18%), putamen (-0.39 ± 0.10 vs. -0.10 ± 0.09%), and rolandic operculum (-0.37 ± 0.17 vs. 0.17 ± 0.12%). Exercise alone significantly (P < 0.005) reduced the neuronal response to high food vs. control and low food vs. control cues in the inferior orbitofrontal cortex (-0.94 ± 0.33%), insula (-0.37 ± 0.13%), and putamen (-0.41 ± 0.10%). No-exercise alone significantly (P < 0.005) reduced the neuronal response to high vs. control and low vs. control cues in the middle (-0.47 ± 0.15%) and inferior occipital gyrus (-1.00 ± 0.23%). Exercise reduced neuronal responses in brain regions consistent with reduced pleasure of food, reduced incentive motivation to eat, and reduced anticipation and consumption of food. Reduced neuronal response in these food reward brain regions after exercise is in line with the paradigm that acute exercise suppresses subsequent energy intake.

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