Emotional processing and positive affect after acute exercise in healthy older adults

Thumbnail Image

Publication or External Link





Kommula, Y., Purcell, J. J., Callow, D. D., Won, J., Pena, G. S., & Smith, J. C. (2023). Emotional processing and positive affect after acute exercise in healthy older adults. Psychophysiology, 00, e14357.


The well-elucidated improvement of mood immediately after exercise in older adults presumably involves adaptations in emotion-processing brain networks. However, little is known about effects of acute exercise on appetitive and aversive emotion-related network recruitment in older adults. The purpose of this study was to determine the effect of acute exercise, compared to a seated rest control condition, on pleasant and unpleasant emotion-related regional activation in healthy older adults. Functional MRI data were acquired from 32 active older adults during blocked presentations of pleasant, neutral and unpleasant images from the International Affective Pictures System. fMRI data were collected after participants completed 30 min of moderate to vigorous intensity cycling or seated rest, performed in a counterbalanced order across separate days in a within-subject design. The findings suggest three ways that emotional processing in the brain may be different immediately after exercise (relative to immediately after rest): First, reduced demands on emotional regulation during pleasant emotional processing as indicated by lower precuneus activation for pleasant stimuli; second, reduced processing of negative emotional stimuli in visual association areas as indicated by lower activation for unpleasant stimuli in the bilateral fusiform and ITG; third, an increased recruitment in activation associated with regulating/inhibiting unpleasant emotional processing in the bilateral medial superior frontal gyrus (dorsomedial prefrontal cortex), angular gyri, supramarginal gyri, left cerebellar crus I/II and a portion of right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Overall, these findings support that acute exercise in active older adults alters activation in key emotional processing and regulating brain regions.