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How Exercise Benefits Overweight and Obese Individuals’ Brains

We know that exercise can improve our moods and even help us manage mental illness, but can it help how our brains actually function?

Researchers recently learned that in addition to the rest of the body, overweight and obese people are prone to insulin resistance in the brain. So, they wanted to know whether exercise could improve both insulin sensitivity in the brain and cognition in overweight people.

Turns out, it can.

The study went as such:

  • Participants consisted of 22 sedentary adults who were either overweight or obese (BMI average 31).
  • Participants underwent two brain scans before and after an 8-week “exercise intervention,” which included walking and cycling.
  • Researchers measured brain function before and after the exercise intervention using insulin nasal spray, which investigated insulin sensitivity in the brain.
  • After the 8-week exercise intervention, there was marginal weight loss but the brain functions important for metabolism has normalized
  • The striatum are of the brain especially showed enhanced sensitivity to insulin; so much so that an obese person’s brain response after exercise resembled that of a person of normal weight.
  • Researchers found exercise greatly improves dopamine-related brain function.
  • As an unexpected bonus, the greater the brain function improvement, the more belly fat a participant lost.

Says Dr. Stephanie Kullmann, the study’s lead researcher:

The bottom line is that exercise improves brain function. And increasing insulin sensitivity in dopamine-related brain regions through exercise may help decrease the risk of a person to develop type 2 diabetes, along with the benefits for mood and cognition.

Interesting stuff, yeah? Though not all that surprising. It’s just another notch in the bedpost that is Exercise Can Help Damn Near Everything.

So now, what I’m wondering is, if a person who is overweight or obese is motivated to start an exercise routine, what’s the best way to get started? I’ve done some researching and compiled some ideas, but I want to hear from you guys, first. Anyone have any experience with this? Yourself, or maybe a friend or loved one?

Let us know in the comments!

How Exercise Benefits Overweight and Obese Individuals’ Brains

Alicia Sparks

Alicia Sparks is a freelance writer and editor and the creator of, where she blogs to help new freelance writers get their quills in the pot, so to speak. Among animal rights, music, and physical wellness, her passions include mental health and advocacy. Here at Psych Central she works as Syndication Editor as well as authors Your Body, Your Mind, Unleash Your Creativity, and World of Psychology's weekly "Psychology Around the Net."

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APA Reference
Sparks, A. (2019). How Exercise Benefits Overweight and Obese Individuals’ Brains. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 22 Aug 2019
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