A simple 10 minutes of regular exercise improved brain health and affected appetite in mice.
The study, conducted by scientists at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, indicates that short bursts of exercise trigger a range of physical and mental changes — for example, boosting calorie burning and supporting the ability to regulate hunger and satiety, as well as improving dopamine receptors in the brain. According to the San Diego Zoo Institute’s Claire Gaudiani, PhD, the studies’ results show that just 10 minutes of exercise can impact brain activity and improve sensation. “By altering brain activity, exercise decreases appetite-suppressing effects of insulin-like growth factor 1 [IGF-1], reduces appetite-suppressing effects of leptin — the so-called leptin receptor antagonist — and preserves dopamine levels in the brain. In mice who are overweight or obese, exercise also improves brain glucose balance, insulin sensitivity and depressive symptoms.”
The researchers analyzed MRI scans of activity in the hypothalamus of the brain, the region associated with satiety and appetite regulation. Activity decreased in a particular pathway in the hypothalamus when mice were exercising. The study found that the hypothalamus sent off signals during exercise that increase when the animals are eating — and, as a result, prompts them to eat more. “For example,” Gaudiani says, “if an animal gets a good workout, the hypothalamus responds to that by firing more neurotransmitters.”
The authors also found that working with mice when the animals were put through workouts led to increased activity in another area of the brain, the nucleus accumbens. Gaudiani explains that by activating this part of the brain, the scientists felt that they could improve obesity-related symptoms, including insulin resistance, depression and diabetes. She adds that a similar system may be at work in humans — but this system is more complex, as it’s enhanced by glucose regulation and produces more dopamine, too.
*Updates correct the author’s position to Claire Gaudiani, PhD, not Claire Hedman, PhD.