Exercise for Gut Health | Good + Good
Turns out, taking care of your gut takes a little more than just popping that probiotic every morning. All of your environment the medications you take can have an impact, which makes sense when you think about it.
More surprising? These workouts you do also improve your gut health. Yes, you read that right. Research has shown a positive link between exercise and our microbiome, and the benefits extend far beyond our metabolism. But how exactly can spending time in the gym influence our gut and how can we get the most out of it?
How Exercise Improves Our Gut Health
As researchers continue to study the gut and the factors that influence its health, the data available to date supports the idea that your sweat sessions can help regulate and stabilize your microbiome.
But which exercise is the most beneficial? The general answer to this question is simply “regular exercise”. Exercising regularly, regardless of intensity or type of movement, will help you build and maintain a healthy microbiome. The Mayo Clinic recommends 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, and an interesting study found that prolonged interruption of these routine workouts can actually reverse their benefits to the microbiota. However, it is believed that adding variety to your workout will provide different benefits to your digestive system and beyond.
Low or moderate intensity exercise, for example, may reduce transient bowel movement time— meaning it shakes things up to help you poop. This limits the amount of contact between the gastrointestinal tract and pathogens in your waste. Due to this protective nature, it appears to reduce the risk of colon cancer, inflammatory bowel diseaseand diverticulosis. Activities like walking, light jogging, restorative yoga, dynamic stretching, and swimming or biking at a relaxed pace would all do the trick.
Intense exercise, on the other hand, can actually work vs gut health as it triggers the release of cortisol, a stress hormone. If you train hard enough that it’s difficult to carry on a conversation, your body perceives this as increased stress and prioritizes blood flow to the organs needed for survival, hitting the pause button on digestion. (You may even notice that it leads to some digestive issues.) Vigorous exercise has its own benefits, of course, but it’s important to prioritize rest between sessions because a lack of recovery can affect the health of the gut microbiome, its ability to eliminate waste, and the permeability of its coating over time.
However, any physical activity not directly necessary for normal day-to-day survival has been shown to increase gut microbiota variation and the concentration of n-butyrate, which is the preferred fuel of colon cells. We know that butyrate helps protect us against colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disease, but has also been shown to increase energy expenditure, improve insulin sensitivity and decrease fatty tissue.
Studies even found that increased variation in the gut microbiota is associated with maximum oxygen consumption and reduced chronic inflammation in the body. So exercise helps your gut, and your gut helps you maximize your workouts. A win-win!
That doesn’t mean your gym workouts are all it takes to cultivate a healthy gut. While studies show that exercise supports a unique microbiome regardless of diet, it’s always important to maintain a well-balanced diet: stock up on prebiotics with fiber-rich choices like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans , and be sure to regularly eat probiotic foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha tea, and pickled vegetables, which contain live microbiota that can help support your microbiome.
A healthy gut supports digestion, immunity, and metabolic function, all of which influence disease prevention and treatment. So keep to a well-balanced diet and those workouts! Your instincts will thank you.
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