The effects of high-intensity exercise on neural responses to images of food

Daniel R Crabtree, Edward Chambers, Robert Hardwick, Andrew Blannin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: Acute bouts of high-intensity exercise modulate peripheral appetite regulating hormones to transiently suppress hunger. However, the effects of physical activity on central appetite regulation have yet to be fully investigated.

Objective: We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to compare neural responses to visual food stimuli after intense exercise and rest.

Design: Fifteen lean healthy men [mean ± SD age: 22.5 ± 3.1 y; mean ± SD body mass index (in kg/m2): 24.2 ± 2.4] completed two 60-min trials—exercise (EX; running at ∼70% maximum aerobic capacity) and a resting control trial (REST)—in a counterbalanced order. After each trial, an fMRI assessment was completed in which images of high- and low-calorie foods were viewed.

Results: EX significantly suppressed subjective appetite responses while increasing thirst and core-body temperature. Furthermore, EX significantly suppressed ghrelin concentrations and significantly enhanced peptide YY release. Neural responses to images of high-calorie foods significantly increased dorsolateral prefrontal cortex activation and suppressed orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and hippocampus activation after EX compared with REST. After EX, low-calorie food images increased insula and putamen activation and reduced OFC activation compared with REST. Furthermore, left pallidum activity was significantly elevated after EX when low-calorie images were viewed and was suppressed when high-calorie images were viewed, and these responses correlated significantly with thirst.

Conclusions: Exercise increases neural responses in reward-related regions of the brain in response to images of low-calorie foods and suppresses activation during the viewing of high-calorie foods. These central responses are associated with exercise-induced changes in peripheral signals related to appetite-regulation and hydration status. This trial was registered at as NCT01926431.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)258-267
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Issue number2
Early online date4 Dec 2013
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2014


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