An eight-week exercise intervention boosted cognitive abilities and mood in a group of overweight and obese sedentary adults, reported German researchers.

Twenty-two study participants had brain scans before and after the exercise program, which included cycling and walking. They were also assessed for insulin sensitivity, cognition, mood and peripheral metabolism. Although little weight was lost overall, brain functions that regulate metabolism “normalized,” the researchers wrote. In addition, the follow-up scans showed increased blood flow to the brain centers related to improved motor skills and reward-related learning. One area, the striatum, improved function to the point that it resembled the brain response of a person with normal weight, wrote lead author Stephanie Kullmann, Ph.D.

Patients also reported better mood and executive function abilities, which include memory, self-control and self-regulation. The authors noted that those with the most gains in brain function lost the most belly fat. 

“The bottom line is that exercise improves brain function,” Kullmann reported. “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.”