In a new study, researchers found for the first time that low and high exercise intensities differentially influence brain function.
They discovered that low-intensity exercise triggers brain networks involved in cognition control and attention processing, while high-intensity exercise primarily activates networks involved in affective/emotion processing.
The research was conducted by a team at University Hospital Bonn.
In the study, the team used resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (Rs-fMRI), a noninvasive technique that allows for studies on brain connectivity.
Twenty-five male athletes underwent individual assessments using an incremental treadmill test. On separate days they performed low- and high-intensity exercise bouts for 30 minutes.
Before and after exercising, Rs-fMRI was used to examine the functional connectivity of different brain regions that are linked to specific behavioral processes.
Participants also completed a questionnaire to measure positive and negative mood before and after the exercise.
The team found a big increase in positive mood after both exercise intensities and no change in a negative mood.
The results of the Rs-fMRI tests showed that low-intensity exercise led to increased functional connectivity in networks associated with cognitive processing and attention.
High-intensity exercise, on the other hand, led to increased functional connectivity in networks related to affective, emotional processes.
High-intensity exercise also led to decreased functional connectivity in networks associated with motor function.
The researchers note that this is the first study to report the distinct effects of exercise intensity on specific functional networks within the brain at rest.
Future research may pave the way for supportive clinical applications in patients or for enhancing brain functional plasticity.
The lead authors of the study are Angelika Schmitt, MSc, and Henning Boecker, MD, Functional Neuroimaging Group.
The study is published in Brain Plasticity.
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