Aerobic exercise increases hippocampal subfield volumes in younger adults and prevents volume decline in the elderly

Thomas Frodl*, Katharina Strehl, Angela Carballedo, Leonardo Tozzi, Myles Doyle, Francesco Amico, John Gormley, Grace Lavelle, Veronica O’Keane

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


Exercise improves both physical and mental health and increases neurogenesis in the dendate gyrus (DG) of the hippocampus. The aim of this study was to examine whether exercising, as compared to no change in regular physical activity, would impact on hippocampal volume, and in particular the core hippocampal structures, DG and cornu ammonis (CA) subfields, and whether any changes would be moderated by age. Thirty nine previously sedentary healthy participants were randomized to either a standardized progressive aerobic exercise program or to “no change” for 16 weeks. Mental health including profile of mood states (POMS), was assessed before and every 4 weeks during the program. Magnetic resonance imaging to examine hippocampal subfields was carried out before and after the program. Aerobic exercise resulted in a significant improvement of the POMS item ‘vigour’ compared to those in the control group. Overall left hippocampal and left CA4-DG volumes increased significantly in the exercise group while no significant changes were seen in the control group. Older adults in the control group demonstrated significant reductions in CA4-DG subfields over the study, whereas older adults in the exercise group did not show volume decline. These findings reinforce the literature that exercise has a beneficial effect on mental health and can prevent age-related volume decline. Exercise to Improve Resilience,, NCT02541136, Rec Ref 2011/45/13.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1577-1587
Number of pages11
JournalBrain Imaging and Behavior
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2020


  • Aerobic exercise
  • Aging
  • Brain imaging
  • Gyrus dendatus
  • Hippocampus
  • Mood

Cite this