The Impact of Physical Activity on Food Reward: Review and Conceptual Synthesis of Evidence from Observational, Acute, and Chronic Exercise Training Studies

Curr Obes Rep. 2020 Jun;9(2):63-80. doi: 10.1007/s13679-020-00372-3.


Purpose of review: This review brings together current evidence from observational, acute, and chronic exercise training studies to inform public debate on the impact of physical activity and exercise on food reward.

Recent findings: Low levels of physical activity are associated with higher liking and wanting for high-energy food. Acute bouts of exercise tend to reduce behavioral indices of reward for high-energy food in inactive individuals. A dissociation in liking (increase) and wanting (decrease) may occur during chronic exercise training associated with loss of body fat. Habitual moderate-to-vigorous physical activity is associated with lower liking and wanting for high-fat food, and higher liking for low-fat food. Food reward does not counteract the benefit of increasing physical activity levels for obesity management. Exercise training appears to be accompanied by positive changes in food preferences in line with an overall improvement in appetite control.

Keywords: Appetite; Exercise; Food reward; Liking and wanting; Obesity management; Physical activity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism
  • Appetite Regulation
  • Choice Behavior
  • Eating / psychology*
  • Exercise*
  • Food Preferences*
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Motivation*
  • Obesity / therapy
  • Observational Studies as Topic
  • Reward*