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High-Intensity Exercise Increases Urge to Eat Healthy and Curbs Appetite

Feb 13, 2014

Brain activity in region responsible for food anticipation increased while exercising upon exposure to healthy food as opposed to unhealthy alternative….

Dr. Daniel Crabtree from the University of Aberdeen’s Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health explained that the study focused on a region of the brain called the insula, also known as the primary taste cortex, which is activated in anticipation of foods and when eating foods that we perceive as pleasant.
Researchers recruited 15 lean, healthy men who were required to run for one hour at the same speed while magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was used to monitor the participants’ appetite via the brain. During the MRIs, researchers showed the men pictures of unhealthy foods like pizzas, burgers, and donuts and healthy foods like grapes, strawberries, and carrots. The response was measured by the activity levels of the insula and showed that when the men looked at pictures of unhealthy foods, activity levels were decreased whereas when the men looked at the healthy food options, activity levels were increased. Blood samples of each participant were drawn in order to analyze two hormones related to appetite stimulation and suppression and participants were asked to rate their hunger levels. The participants felt that after running their appetites were suppressed and the appetite hormone analysis confirmed this observation. Levels of the appetite stimulating hormone were reduced while levels of the appetite suppressing hormone were increased.
The theory behind the increased activity of the insula when presented with healthy foods is that these foods are higher in water content compared to unhealthy foods. The insula has been found to be linked to thirst and if the body is thirsty, such as after heavy exercise, then the participant would be more likely to crave foods that are likely to quench that thirst.
More studies may need to be performed in order to see if these same results would apply to other populations such as overweight or obese patients and other studies may need to include different workout intensities to gain further insight into the link between brain activity and exercise.
Practice Pearls:
  • The insula region of the brain is associated with thirst and activation of this region is increased in anticipation of foods that are perceived as pleasant
  • After high-intensity, acute exercise, participants felt less hungry and were more likely to choose healthy food options over unhealthy options
  • Blood samples from the participants after exercise showed decreased levels of appetite stimulating hormone and increased levels of appetite suppressing hormone
"High Intensity Exercise Helps Fight Cravings for Junk Food." Science World Report. N.p.1Jan. 2014. Web. 09 Feb. 2014.