Exercise and Your Gut: Move More for Improved Health 

Need another reason to increase the amount of exercise you’re getting? Consider your gut.  

No, this isn’t another article about sculpting “six-pack” abs. In this case, the gut in question contains your gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which regulates everything from your immune system to digestion 

Emerging research is looking at the connection between exercise and the microbiome of the gut, which simply refers to all the microorganisms – things like bacteria and viruses – that live in the gut. Humans have up to 1,000 species of bacteria living in our guts and they can influence how healthy we are. In fact, you might have seen the news recently that poor gut health was associated with more severe cases of COVID-19.    

While it’s long been known that eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can improve gut health, not as much research has been focused on how exercise might improve the gut microbiome, but recent discoveries are promising.   

In a small six-week study, researchers found that when formerly sedentary people added in 30-60 minutes of cardiovascular exercise three times per week, the makeup of their gut microbiome changed for the better. Short-chain fatty acids, notably butyrate, increased due to the exercise and returned to baseline levels after participants returned to their sedentary ways. Butyrate has been shown to promote healthy intestinal cells and reduces inflammation.     

Another study found that the diversity of microbes in rugby players’ guts was markedly higher than in non-athletes. The rugby players also had higher rates of bacteria associated with lower rates of obesity and metabolic disease.    

Higher fitness levels are also correlated with more microbial diversity, according to another study that analyzed the differences in microbiota of people of similar age and BMI and with similar dietary intake but with varying levels of physical fitness.  

The bottom line? A more diverse gut microbiome offers protective health benefits against a wide range of health conditions such as diabetes, colorectal cancer and inflammatory bowel disease. To improve your gut health, make sure to eat a healthy diet and focus on upping your physical activity – aim for 30 minutes per day most days. 

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Photo credit: Getty Images

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