Many of the small percentage of previously obese humans who successfully maintain weight loss report high levels of physical activity, suggesting a role for exercise in the maintenance of their lower body weights. The rat model of diet-induced obesity (DIO) has been particularly useful, since it shares several common characteristics with human obesity and, unlike the human condition, allows a thorough investigation of the effects of exercise on the central pathways which regulate energy homeostasis. In rats with DIO, voluntary wheel running selectively reduces adiposity without causing a compensatory increase in energy intake. These effects are likely mediated by signals generated by the exercising body such as interleukin-6, fatty acids, and heat which feed back on the brain to regulate central neuropeptide systems involved in the regulation of energy homeostasis. While exercise provides temporary reductions in obesity in adult rats, early postweaning exercise reduces adiposity in high-fat-fed DIO rats long after exercise is terminated. This suggests that early-onset exercise may permanently alter the development of the central pathways which regulate energy homeostasis. Therefore, identification of exercise-induced central and peripheral factors and elucidation of their interactions with central modulatory pathways may aid in the identification of new targets for the pharmacological treatment of human obesity.

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