Can Exercise Lower Energy Intake? What the Research Says
How Physical Activity Influences Energy Intake
Everyone has heard before that exercise and physical activity are important parts of weight management but that idea has been challenged in recent years. Some scientists are looking for the mechanisms behind this complex relationship and it is still not entirely understood. Interestingly, new research is finding that one way exercise can impact weight management is by influencing our food intake. We know that exercise increases our energy expenditure - i.e. burns calories - but previous research has shown we actually burn less than we think and exercise alone does not lead to meaningful weight loss. A research team out of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine has recently published research showing that exercise decreases the number of calories we eat due to its inhibitory effect on food intake. They reported that doing physical activity can alter signals in an area of the brain called the dorsomedial hypothalamus, which plays a role in weight management. These chemicals are corticotrophin-releasing factor (CRF), neuropeptide Y (NPY) and transthyretin (TTR). The signal NPY is responsible for increasing our desire to eat, but when we exercise, this signal is suppressed which then inhibits our desire to eat. Exercising also promotes CRF and TTR signalling which can further inhibit food intake. These effects can help promote weight loss and prevent weight gain and obesity, especially in males, by helping them eat less when they exercise regularly.
This team recently published a paper that systematically reviewed over 60 years of research to help us understand the impact of exercise on weight. These articles focused on rodent models (particularly mice and rats) with voluntary access to running wheels to reflect the voluntary behaviour of humans when performing physical activity. Although the lack of human subjects poses a weakness to these findings, we already know that the same neurotransmitters in rodents affect energy balance in humans. This research helps us further understand the way our dorsomedial hypothalamus controls our weight and food intake.
What This Means For You
Physical activity is good for our health – mentally, emotionally, and physically. Fitting daily physical activity into our routines is an effective and sustainable way to combat obesity and maintain a healthy weight. Regular exercise not only increases energy expenditure, but it might also help us eat less. To reap the benefits of exercise this summer, try some of these activities:
- Go for a scenic bike ride – bring your own or find bike rentals in your city
- Hike the trails in your area and run any hills you come by for an extra calorie burn
- Cool off with a swim in a nearby lake or community pool
- Go for a sunset walk or run
- Look for free yoga in the park sessions in your area
- Get some friends together for a game of beach volleyball
- Sign up for a half marathon and train with a loved one
Interested to learn more about the latest research on weight management? Book an appointment with us today.
Zhang, N., & Bi, S. (2018). Effects of physical exercise on food intake and body weight: Role of dorsomedial hypothalamic signaling. Physiology & Behavior, 192, 59-63. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2018.03.01