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Neuroimage. 2018 Feb 1;166:230-238. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2017.11.007. Epub 2017 Nov 4.

Effect of aerobic exercise on hippocampal volume in humans: A systematic review and meta-analysis.

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NICM, School of Science and Health, University of Western Sydney, Australia; Division of Psychology and Mental Health, University of Manchester, UK. Electronic address:
Physiotherapy Department, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, UK; Health Service and Population Research Department, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College London, UK.
KU Leuven Department of Rehabilitation Sciences, Leuven, Belgium; KU Leuven Department of Neurosciences, UPC KU Leuven, Belgium.
Hospital de Clínicas de Porto Alegre, Porto Alegre, Brazil; Centro Universitário La Salle, Canoas, Brazil.
Sunshine Coast Mind and Neuroscience, Thompson Institute, University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia.
School of Psychiatry, UNSW, Sydney, Australia; Black Dog Institute, Randwick, Australia.
School of Psychiatry, UNSW, Sydney, Australia; Schizophrenia Research Unit, Ingham Institute of Applied Medical Research, Liverpool, Australia.


Hippocampal volume increase in response to aerobic exercise has been consistently observed in animal models. However, the evidence from human studies is equivocal. We undertook a systematic review to identify all controlled trials examining the effect of aerobic exercise on the hippocampal volumes in humans, and applied meta-analytic techniques to determine if aerobic exercise resulted in volumetric increases. We also sought to establish how volume changes differed in relation to unilateral measures of left/right hippocampal volume, and across the lifespan. A systematic search identified 4398 articles, of which 14 were eligible for inclusion in the primary analysis. A random-effects meta-analysis showed no significant effect of aerobic exercise on total hippocampal volume across the 737 participants. However, aerobic exercise had significant positive effects on left hippocampal volume in comparison to control conditions. Post-hoc analyses indicated effects were driven through exercise preventing the volumetric decreases which occur over time. These results provide meta-analytic evidence for exercise-induced volumetric retention in the left hippocampus. Aerobic exercise interventions may be useful for preventing age-related hippocampal deterioration and maintaining neuronal health.


Hippocampus; Neurodegeneration; Neurogenesis; Physical activity; Plasticity; Resistance

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