I was always active as a child; riding my bike, playing tag – the usual kid stuff. I ran track in middle school and was a cheerleader in high school. I never gave much thought to exercise because I was proportioned adequately, looked fine in whatever I chose to wear and didn’t have any problem hiking the trails my dad thought we should explore.
Now as a middle-aged woman, the memory of that peppy, high school cheerleader has grown quite dim. I can honestly say that I’m not looking to regain that former appearance, but I do want to be as healthy as possible. I exercise and watch what I eat, but have watched the number on the scales creep higher and higher. So, it’s not surprising that an article in the New York Times titled, Does Exercise Make You Overeat, caught my eye.
The article covered two studies. In one study, researchers tracked activity in portions of the brain known as the food-reward system, which have been shown to control whether we like and want food. What hasn’t been clear is how exercise alters the food-reward network. That particular study published in The Journal of Applied Physiology determined that “Responsiveness to food cues was significantly reduced after exercise, and that reduction was spread across many different regions of the brain, including those that affect liking and wanting food, and the motivation to seek out food.”
However, the volunteers in that study were in their 20s, normal weight and fit enough to ride a bike strenuously for an hour. Since many of us do not fit that description, those results may not be typical. In fact, the other study of brain activity after exercise discussed found, some overweight, sedentary people respond to exercise, quite differently than their counterparts in the first study. Their food-reward systems became accelerated after exercise.
The two studies suggest that exercise does have an effect on our food reward regions, but the effect may depend on “who you are and what kind of exercise you do.”
“Four or five years ago, it really looked like appetite hormones controlled what we eat,” says Todd A. Hagobian, a professor of kinesiology at California Polytechnic who oversaw the first study. “But I’m more and more convinced that it’s the brain. Hormones don’t tell you to go eat. Your brain does. And if we can get the dose right, exercise might change that message.”
My wellness finesse level:
Novice Advanced beginner Competent Proficient Expert
What’s your wellness finesse level?
*finesse (skill, flair, grace elegance, poise, assurance)