In a new study, researchers found that exercise can improve brain function in overweight and obese people.
The research was conducted by a team from the University of Tübingen.
Previous research has shown that exercise provides health benefits for metabolism and mood and general health.
Studies have shown that obese and overweight people are prone to insulin resistance in the brain, where it provides information about current nutritional status, as well as the rest of the body.
In the new study, the team wanted to know whether exercise can improve insulin sensitivity in the brain and improve cognition in overweight individuals.
They examined 22 sedentary adults with overweight or obesity (an average BMI of 31).
The people underwent two brain scans before and after an 8-week exercise intervention, including cycling and walking.
Their brain function was measured before and after using an insulin nasal spray to investigate insulin sensitivity of the brain.
The participants were also tested for cognition, mood, and metabolism.
The team found that even though the exercise intervention only led to a small weight loss, the people’s brain functions important for metabolism became better only after 8-weeks.
Exercise increased regional blood flow in areas of the brain important for motor control and reward processes, both of which depend on the neurotransmitter dopamine.
Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter for learning new motor skills and in reward-related learning and this research shows that exercise significantly improves dopamine-related brain function.
One area, in particular, had enhanced sensitivity to insulin after the 8-weeks of exercise.
Interestingly, the greater the improvement in brain function, the more belly fat a person lost during the exercise intervention.
In addition, the participants reported an improvement in mood and task switching, which is an indicator of improved executive function.
The findings show that exercise can improve brain function.
Increasing insulin sensitivity in dopamine-related brain regions through exercise may help decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes.
The lead author of the study is Dr. Stephanie Kullmann.
The study was presented at the annual meeting of Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior, Utrecht, Netherlands.
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