Study links exercise intensity to different mood and attention benefits

Exercise, whether low-intensity or high-intensity, is beneficial from a health standpoint. However, not all exercise has the same effect on the brain, according to a new study, with certain types offering benefits related to things like attention and other types offering benefits related to mood. The findings may help shape exercise routines designed specifically to help treat mood or attention disorders.

This is the first study to identify the different effects of high- and low-intensity exercise on the brain; as such, it's not surprising that it was relatively small with only 25 male athletes as participants. Researchers with University Hospital Bonn used Rs-fMRI scanning to study the brain connectivity of these athletes.

This technology shed light on which parts of the brain react to different exercise intensities, revealing that low-intensity exercise activated brain networks related to attention processing and cognition control; in comparison, the high-intensity exercise mostly activated the brain networks related to processing emotions.

The study's participants were tasked with running on a treadmill for 30 minutes — on some days they performed at a low intensity and on other days they performed at a high intensity. As well, the participants provided info via a questionnaire before and after exercise about their mood.

The results, according to the study, was that both low- and high-intensity exercise caused positive changes in mood and no 'significant' changes in bad moods. High-intensity exercise, however, was found to increase the connectivity in brain networks behind affective/emotional processing and to decrease connectivity in regions related to motor function.

This isn't the first time a study has found specific brain changes associated with specific exercises. Earlier this year, for example, a different study out of Germany found that high-intensity exercise was linked to increased gray matter volume in the brain