Exercise interventions preserve hippocampal volume: A meta-analysis

Hippocampus. 2021 Mar;31(3):335-347. doi: 10.1002/hipo.23292. Epub 2020 Dec 14.


Hippocampal volume is a marker of brain health and is reduced with aging and neurological disease. Exercise may be effective at increasing and preserving hippocampal volume, potentially serving as a treatment for conditions associated with hippocampal atrophy (e.g., dementia). This meta-analysis aimed to identify whether exercise training has a positive effect on hippocampal volume and how population characteristics and exercise parameters moderate this effect. Studies met the following criteria: (a) controlled trials; (b) interventions of physical exercise; (c) included at least one time-point of hippocampal volume data before the intervention and one after; (d) assessed hippocampal volume using either manual or automated segmentation algorithms. Animal studies, voxel-based morphometry analyses, and multi-modal interventions (e.g., cognitive training or meditation) were excluded. The primary analysis in n = 23 interventions from 22 published studies revealed a significant positive effect of exercise on total hippocampal volume. The overall effect was significant in older samples (65 years of age or older) and in interventions that lasted over 24 weeks and had less than 150 min per week of exercise. These findings suggest that moderate amounts of exercise for interventions greater than 6 months have a positive effect on hippocampal volume including in older populations vulnerable to hippocampal atrophy.

Keywords: aging; exercise; hippocampus; magnetic resonance imaging; physical activity.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Atrophy
  • Cognition Disorders* / pathology
  • Exercise
  • Exercise Therapy
  • Hippocampus* / diagnostic imaging
  • Hippocampus* / pathology
  • Humans
  • Infant