Introduction: Previous research suggests that different exercise modes and intensities lead to variations in brain cortical activity. However, because of variability and limitations in previous study designs, the mechanisms behind this link remain unclear. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effects on brain cortical activity that are dependent on exercise mode, intensity, and individual preferences and to localize these changes within the frontal, temporal, parietal, and occipital cortexes of the brain.
Methods: Twelve runners were asked to perform four modes of exercise (treadmill, bicycle, arm crank, and isokinetic wrist flexions), each at 50% and 80% of their individual maximum capacity. In a second experiment, five hand cycling athletes completed an arm crank exercise protocol. Electrocortical activity was recorded for 5 min under rest conditions, before and after exercise. Standardized low-resolution brain electromagnetic tomography was used to localize changes in electroencephalographic α and β frequency ranges within the brain.
Results: We found effects of exercise mode and intensity. Moderate-intensity exercise (50% maximum) was followed by an increase in α activity in either somatosensory brain areas after "familiar exercise" or in emotional areas after "unfamiliar exercise" modes. After high-intensity exercise, changes in α and β frequencies were observed, which also seem to be specific to individual exercise familiarization/preference. When runners completed intense running and hand cyclists completed the intense arm crank exercise, we observed reductions of frontal β activity indicating a deactivation of emotional brain regions.
Conclusions: In conclusion, these findings demonstrate that cortical activation patterns depend on exercise mode and intensity and that individual exercise preferences may contribute to the positive psychophysiological response.