Exercise and gut health
Gut health is a very hot topic at the moment, and for good reason. Gut health essentially refers to our microbiome which is the make-up of bacteria in our digestive tract (ie. our gut). Our gut is like a mini eco system made up of over 90% bacteria, a third of which is common for everyone however two-thirds is specific for each individual.
Many things can affect how our microbiome is formed and the more varied strains of beneficial bacteria present the better. There is more and more research being funded for the influence of our microbiome on our overall health with findings suggesting it is related to many things from immunity, how we store fat, regulating glucose levels, controlling appetite, digestion, mental health, hormone and neurotransmitter production and determining our disease risk.
There are many factors that can influence our microbiome including the moment we enter the world through the birth canal or C-section, to being fed breast milk or formula, exposure to antibiotics and medication and even the environment we play in when we are a child. Throughout life illnesses, medications, stress, diet and also exercise play a large role in influencing our microbiome and composition of bacteria that is present.
Considering the abundant emerging evidence, building up ones microbiome with beneficial bacteria should be a key consideration for our health and research is showing that exercise can play a helpful role in doing so.
More research is warranted in this area and will no doubt be available over the next decade but studies are currently showing that exercise has independent beneficial effects on our microbiome. This means that regardless of diet, stress management, our environment and any illnesses or medication, exercise alone can improve our gut health.
Studies are showing that exercise can improve the balance of the two main types of bacteria in our gut and an imbalance of these has been associated with obesity. Furthermore, it can stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria which improves our immune system and also produces substances that improve the integrity of the gut lining and can protect against gastrointestinal disorders. It is also plausible that the benefits of exercise associated with improving mood, depression and mental health could partly be related to the effects on gut health considering the strong link between the gut and the brain (ie. known as the gut-brain axis).
So far the studies have shown the above benefits from longer duration or higher intensity aerobic training so more research needs to investigate the type, duration and intensity of exercise that can bring about best results. Interestingly, studies have also shown that any changes in the composition of bacteria that occurred from exercise were lost once the subject stopped the exercise for a period of 6 weeks. This highlights that regardless of what type of exercise might be most beneficial, consistency is just as important.
So although we can add improved gut health to the long list of benefits from exercise, including an exercise intervention as part of a more holistic approach including diet, stress management and sleep is the best way to improve gut health.
- V.Monda, I.Villano, A.Messina, A.Valenzano, T.Esposito, F.Moscatelli, A. Viggiano, G.Cibelli, S.Chieffi, M.Monda & G.Messina, Exercise Modifies The Gut Microbiota with Positive Health Effects. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2017
- L.Mailing, J. Allen, T.Buford, C.Fields, J.Woods. Exercise and Gut Microbiome: A Review of the Evidence, Potential Mechanisims, and Implications for Human Health. Exercise and Sports Science Reviews, April 2019.