Exercise Improves Brain Function in Overweight People: Study

New findings from the University of Tübingen in Germany show that, in addition to its well-known benefits for general health, metabolism, diabetes control and mood, physical activity improves brain function in overweight and obese individuals.


Recent research has indicated that people who are overweight and obese tend to have insulin resistance in the brain, as well as the rest of the body. To evaluate the effects of exercise, which is known to increase insulin sensitivity, on brain function, researchers worked with 22 sedentary adults with overweight or obesity. The participants underwent brain scans to evaluate insulin sensitivity before and after an 8-week exercise program, which included bicycling and walking. They were also evaluated for cognitive function (which relates to thinking, memory and problem solving), mood and metabolism.

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Although the exercise program resulted in only moderate weight loss, certain brain functions normalized after 8 weeks, with improved blood flow to certain areas of the brain and increased brain insulin sensitivity. In a particularly interesting finding, the larger the improvement in brain function, the more belly fat a person lost during the program. The participants also reported improvements in mood and in task switching, which indicates improved executive brain function.

“The bottom line is that exercise improves brain function”, said lead researcher Stephanie Kullmann. “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.”

Want to learn more about reducing insulin resistance? Read “Insulin Resistance: What You Need to Know” and “Increasing Insulin Sensitivity.”

Diane Fennell

Diane Fennell

Senior Digital Editor for DiabetesSelfManagement.com, Fennell has 16 years’ experience specializing in diabetes and related health conditions. Based in New York City, she has a degree from Columbia University.

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