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Association between physical activity and changes in intestinal microbiota composition: A systematic review



The intestinal microbiota comprises bacteria, fungi, archaea, protists, helminths and viroses that symbiotically inhabit the digestive system. To date, research has provided limited data on the possible association between an active lifestyle and a healthy composition of human microbiota. This review was aimed to summarize the results of human studies comparing the microbiome of healthy individuals with different physical activity amounts.


We searched Medline/Ovid, NIH/PubMed, and Academic Search Complete between August–October 2020. Inclusion criteria comprised: (a) cross-sectional studies focused on comparing gut microbiome among subjects with different physical activity levels; (b) studies describing human gut microbiome responses to any type of exercise stimulus; (c) studies containing healthy adult women and men. We excluded studies containing diet modifications, probiotic or prebiotic consumption, as well as studies focused on diabetes, hypertension, cancer, hormonal dysfunction. Methodological quality and risk of bias for each study were assessed using the Risk Of Bias In Non-randomized Studies—of Interventions tool.

The results from cross-sectional and longitudinal studies are shown independently.


A total of 17 articles were eligible for inclusion: ten cross-sectional and seven longitudinal studies. Main outcomes vary significantly according to physical activity amounts in longitudinal studies. We identified discrete changes in diversity indexes and relative abundance of certain bacteria in active people.


As literature in this field is rapidly growing, it is important that studies incorporate diverse methods to evaluate other aspects related to active lifestyles such as sleep and dietary patterns. Exploration of other groups such as viruses, archaea and parasites may lead to a better understanding of gut microbiota adaptation to physical activity and sports and its potentially beneficial effects on host metabolism and endurance.

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