How Your Workout Can Hack Your Hormones and Ward Off Hunger

According to preliminary research presented at the annual meeting for the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior in Utrecht, Netherlands, regular aerobic exercise like riding can help your brain function more optimally by regulating its response to insulin.

Insulin response can play a role in perceptions of hunger, suggesting that improving insulin sensitivity through exercise can help control weight, too.

Participants also reported a boost in mood, likely also due to the improved response to insulin.

The benefits of a regular ride are not only physical: Regular aerobic exercise can help your brain function more optimally, preliminary new research presented at the annual meeting for the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior in Utrecht, Netherlands suggests.

In the study, 21 sedentary, obese and overweight adults performed eight weeks of exercise for one hour, three times per week at 80 percent of their VO2 peak. They split that hour into 30 minutes of cycling and 30 minutes of running.

Insulin also plays a role in metabolism, appetite, and hunger—acting as an important signal to the brain about our body’s current nutrient state, which helps determine if we should eat or stop eating, study author Stephanie Kullmann Ph.D., neuroscientist at the Institute for Diabetes Research and Metabolic Diseases of the Helmholtz Center in Munich told Bicycling. People with better insulin sensitivity are better able to absorb sugar, helping them feel less hungry.

The researchers found that after eight weeks of exercise, one area of the brain in particular, the striatum, showed increased sensitivity to insulin. After exercise, the brain response of a person with obesity resembled the response of a person with normal weight.

The researchers also discovered a few more benefits, too: Exercise increased blood flow in areas of the brain important for motor control and reward processes, which can result in improved cognition and mood. In fact, previous studies have shown that a few hours of weekly exercise can reverse your brain age by up to nine years.

The findings from this new study may be especially helpful to people just about to get started on an exercise routine: Those with higher levels of insulin benefitted most by the exercise intervention.