The effects of high-intensity exercise on neural responses to images of food.
Exercise may play a role in moderating eating behaviors. The purpose of this study was to examine the effect of an acute bout of exercise on neural responses to visual food stimuli in children ages 8–11 years. We hypothesized that acute exercise would result in reduced activity in reward areas of the brain. Using a randomized cross-over design, 26 healthy weight children completed two separate laboratory conditions (exercise; sedentary). During the exercise condition, each participant completed a 30-min bout of exercise at moderate-intensity (~ 67% HR maximum) on a motor-driven treadmill. During the sedentary session, participants sat continuously for 30 min. Neural responses to high- and low-calorie pictures of food were determined immediately following each condition using functional magnetic resonance imaging. There was a significant exercise condition*stimulus-type (high- vs. low-calorie pictures) interaction in the left hippocampus and right medial temporal lobe (p < 0.05). Main effects of exercise condition were observed in the left posterior central gyrus (reduced activation after exercise) (p < 0.05) and the right anterior insula (greater activation after exercise) (p < 0.05). The left hippocampus, right medial temporal lobe, left posterior central gyrus, and right anterior insula appear to be activated by visual food stimuli differently following an acute bout of exercise compared to a non-exercise sedentary session in 8–11 year-old children. Specifically, an acute bout of exercise results in greater activation to high-calorie and reduced activation to low-calorie pictures of food in both the left hippocampus and right medial temporal lobe. This study shows that response to external food cues can be altered by exercise and understanding this mechanism will inform the development of future interventions aimed at altering energy intake in children.