Effects of Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior on Brain Response to High-Calorie Food Cues in Young Adults

Obesity (Silver Spring). 2018 Mar;26(3):540-546. doi: 10.1002/oby.22107. Epub 2018 Jan 19.


Objective: Physical activity (PA) promotes weight maintenance, potentially because of its beneficial effects on feeding behavior regulation via diminished food cue reactivity within brain reward regions. This study examined how levels of PA and sedentary behavior (SB) relate to brain responses to food cues.

Methods: Participants (22 lean, 18 with obesity) completed three to five PA recalls over 2 months. Average minutes per day of moderate to vigorous PA (MVPA) and SB were calculated. Participants completed a functional magnetic resonance imaging session, viewing food and nonfood images following glucose ingestion. Region of interest (ROI) analysis examined associations between MVPA and brain percent signal change in response to food versus nonfood images, controlling for obesity and sex. Secondary analysis examined associations between SB and brain responses to food cues.

Results: Greater MVPA was associated with decreased food cue reactivity after glucose across brain ROIs (β = -0.00057, P = 0.005), controlling for obesity and sex. Greater SB was associated with increased food cue reactivity after glucose across brain ROIs in unadjusted analyses (β = 0.00041, P = 0.026).

Conclusions: PA may have beneficial effects on brain regulation of feeding behavior after caloric intake in lean individuals and individuals with obesity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Cues
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Sedentary Behavior*
  • Young Adult