Effects of Exercise on Gut Microbiota of Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Nutrients. 2024 Apr 5;16(7):1070. doi: 10.3390/nu16071070.


Background: The equilibrium between gut microbiota (GM) and the host plays a pivotal role in maintaining overall health, influencing various physiological and metabolic functions. Emerging research suggests that exercise modulates the abundance and functionality of gut bacteria, yet the comprehensive effects on GM diversity remain to be synthesized.

Objectives and design: The study aims to quantitatively examine the effect of exercise on the diversity of gut microbiota of adults using a systemic review and meta-analysis approach.

Methods: PubMed, Ebsco, Embase, Web of Science, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, the China National Knowledge Infrastructure, and Wanfang Data were searched from their inception to September 2023. Exercise intervention studies with a control group that describe and compare the composition of GM in adults, using 16S rRNA gene sequencing, were included in this meta-analysis.

Results: A total of 25 studies were included in this meta-analysis with a total of 1044 participants. Based on a fixed-effects model [Chi2 = 29.40, df = 20 (p = 0.08); I2 = 32%], the pooled analysis showed that compared with the control group, exercise intervention can significantly increase the alpha diversity of adult GM, using the Shannon index as an example [WMD = 0.05, 95% CI (0.00, 0.09); Z = 1.99 (p = 0.05)]. In addition, exercise interventions were found to significantly alter GM, notably decreasing Bacteroidetes and increasing Firmicutes, indicating a shift in the Firmicutes/Bacteroidetes ratio. The subgroup analysis indicates that females and older adults appear to exhibit more significant changes in the Shannon Index and observed OTUs.

Conclusions: Exercise may be a promising way to improve GM in adults. In particular, the Shannon index was significantly increased after exercise. Distinct responses in GM diversity to exercise interventions based on gender and age implicated that more research was needed.

Keywords: exercise; gut microbiota; human; meta-analysis; physical activity; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Bacteroidetes
  • China
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome*
  • Humans
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S


  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S