I’ve been attending gyms and health clubs for over 40 years, and never before was I champing at the bit to go back after Christmas as I was this time around. I think it’s because last May, I found my happy exercise place at the ladies-only gym I go to. I couldn’t wait to get back, which is a very good sign, don’t you think? You can read more about why I enjoy going to this gym here.
Science suggests people who are more physically active tend to have healthier guts, which supports good immune health, digestion, and even mood. Studies have shown that regular exercise accelerates the growth of microorganisms, increasing the different kinds of microbial species in the gut, and encouraging bacteria to flourish.
There’s a lot going on when we exercise – we allow more oxygen to reach our brain and bloodstream, our core body temperature heats up, and there’s a redistribution of our blood flow. Researchers suspect these conditions are great for the bacteria in our microbiomes to flourish, though the exact mechanisms are still unknown. What is known is that exercising causes important changes that help gut microbes to bloom. In short, a regular exercise routine may help support a healthy gut ⎯ and a healthier gut may be linked to improved performance, too.
You can read more about how recent research has revealed that our gut bacteria may play a far greater role in the way exercise improves our health than previously thought in this interesting article.
We all know how beneficial exercise is for our physical and mental health, and it now appears that it could also be just what we need to keep our gut microbes in shape too. Researchers have found that exercise seems to be affecting our gut microbes, by increasing bacterial communities that produce short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) – a type of fatty acids that are primarily produced by microbes and have been shown to modify our metabolism, immunity, and other physiological processes.
The gut microbe Faecalibacterium prausnitzii is considered to be one of the main bacteria responsible for the production of butyrate. Butyrate-producing bacteria have been associated with beneficial effects on metabolism in both mice and humans. Some, but not all, studies have shown exercise to increase Faecalibacterium. People with low levels of this type of bacteria appear to be more at risk of suffering inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, and depression. Going for a 30-60-minute run or bout on the treadmill at the gym can have an impact on the abundance of Faecalibacterium in the gut.
How you can make your workout ‘gut-friendly’
- Focus on cardio – for now, the research connecting exercise to improved gut health has focused on aerobic exercise, and less so on resistance training like weightlifting. That doesn’t mean pumping iron won’t help your gut health – remember the crucial importance of resistance training to maintain healthy muscle mass especially as we age – it’s just that the scientific community hasn’t explored this area yet. Try doing aerobic or cardiovascular exercise (like jogging or cycling) three days a week for 30 to 60 minutes at a target heart rate of 60 percent of your maximum heart rate (you should be able to talk comfortably and maintain regular breathing), working up to 75 percent (classified as ‘vigorous exercise’ where you may be breaking a sweat and your breathing speeds up). Other exercises, like rowing, swimming, or skipping, are ways to get your cardio in too.
- Be consistent – to keep the production of good microbes in your gut going, you’re going to have to keep exercising, making it part of your overall lifestyle. Consistency is number one because you can lose the beneficial effects if you don’t keep exercising. Just like you’ll lose your stamina if you quit running for a few weeks, your gut microbiome will lose out on the production of good microbes once you stop exercising. This is why it’s so important to find an exercise or two that you enjoy doing. It’s like that old saying ‘Choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to do a day of work in your life’ and the same applies to exercise – if you enjoy/love the exercise that you are doing, it won’t be a chore and you will look forward to doing it. It could be line dancing, joining a walking/hiking club, fencing, anything that keeps you moving.
- Start small – if you’re starting at square one and aren’t used to exercising, ease your way in. Don’t go from couch to marathon! For starters, you don’t want injuries, and you want to build a long-lasting habit. The goal is giving your microbiome a constant fuel source through exercise.
- Get outdoors – exposure to nature increases our exposure to diverse ecosystems, and the bacteria within them. If we’re outdoors, running in a park, or along the ocean, we’re breathing in very diverse communities of bacteria that are in the air. A Finnish study that found that children playing outside on the forest floor, in the dirt and among plants and flowers, had a richer, more diverse gut microbiome and a less inflammatory immune system compared with their peers who were in an urban daycare setting.
- Don’t forget nutrition – what you put on your plate every day has just as much impact on your gut health as your exercise regime. Before you do your food shopping and meal planning, take note – the gut microbiome loves fermented foods, which are packed with bacteria and yeast; also ensure you’re getting plenty of protein for those important muscle-building amino acids. And if you are not a fan of fermented foods, a daily Live Bacteria capsule will help keep your gut well balanced.
If you have any questions about digestive and gut health, please get in touch.