By Jaimie Rhynsburger
Exercise is commonly associated with losing weight, and coupled with healthy eating. But, this isn’t always the case. In fact, several recent studies have indicated that exercise may be responsible for changes within the brain that determine how the brain responds to food stimuli. Surprisingly, this brain alteration does not necessarily mean that there will be changes in favor of weight loss. In some cases, this brain alteration causes an increased desire for food, rather than a decreased desire or interest.
Most research, like the one conducted at California Polytechnic State University notes that when individuals exercise they are generally less interested in food upon completion of their exercise routine. This was found by using an MRI to monitor brain activity in a section of the brain known as the food response network. It is widely accepted and understood that this section of the brain is responsible for one’s desire for food, what type of food they desire, and a person’s food likes and dislikes. When individuals were tested after exercise using sets of food-based flashcard images, the food response network area of the brain showed little reactivity, meaning that individuals were uninterested in both the food being offered (a range from healthy to greasy and fatty), as well as in eating in general (Reynolds, 2012).
This is the standard view of exercise and how it affects the brain, thus aiding in establishing and maintaining better health. However, while this is the typical affect of exercising, it is not the only affect of exercising. It is this phenomenon that is discussed in the Journal of Obesity in 2011. This particular journal article discusses the results of their studies, and why another study on the issue of exercise is necessary. The study became necessary when researchers noticed that all participants of the previous study had been in their 20s and fit, meaning that they were not only used to participating in exercise, but that they were healthy. This shows a clear lack of research in areas where the participants are not youthful fit, or prone to any sort of exercise.
Participants of this second study were not 20 and fit, but were a group of men and women who were heavier in weight. These individuals were put on exercise programs meant to burn 500 calories per session, and workout sessions were conducted 5 days a week (Reynolds, 2012). In the end, 20 of the 34 participants yielded similar results to those studied in the Cal Poly research. However, 14 individuals did not see weight loss, and instead exhibited results that were in contrast to the Cal Poly study. Instead of being turned-off to food, these individuals experienced an increased need for food, especially unhealthy, greasy, and fatty foods.
So, what does this research mean? How can it be used, and how may it affect our dietary and exercise habits? While more research does need to be conducted into the area, these two studies indicate the role that exercise plays in not only our overall health, but also in our overall fitness. For those who are already relatively fit, less exercise may be needed to lose weight and maintain weight. For those who aren’t in such great physical condition, it may take a great deal more time and exercise to get the affects that other individuals get with only an hour each day for five days a week. This research will work to help individuals, dieticians, personal trainers, and doctors to create the best weight loss and weight management plan possible as per an individual’s personal needs.
Reynolds, G. (2012). Does Exercise Make You Overeat? The New York Times.