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Got Gut Problems? The Surprising Link to a Healthy Gut (Hint: Its NOT Food)
Discover how exercise enhances digestion, eases IBS symptoms, and boosts gut wellness in this science-backed article.
Did you know, your gut is home to over 1,000 bacterial species and is collectively referred to as the “gut microbiome?”
Interestingly, when we are babies, our microbiome is quite similar to our mother's, but it matures and becomes similar to that of an adult by the time we turn one year old.
As we grow and transition from liquid to solid foods, our gut starts to welcome a diverse array of microorganisms. And get this – various factors like age, genetics, environment, antibiotics, and life events can all have a hand in shaping our gut's ecosystem.
In this article, we dive into understanding what influences the gut microbiome and how exercise in particular can be a holistic approach to healing the gut.
Diversify Your Gut
Imagine your gut microbiome as a team of superheroes that take care of different jobs: maintaining balance in your body, supporting your immune system, and helping various signals flow smoothly.
To keep these superheroes performing at their best, it's crucial to maintain a diverse and healthy group of gut bacteria. This not only leads to better health and a stronger immune system but also keeps inflammation at bay.
On the flip side, if the diversity in your gut decreases, you might be at a higher risk for conditions like type II diabetes, coronary heart disease, and inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.
But don't worry, you have the power to boost your gut's diversity! Simple habits like staying active and eating a diet rich in fiber and whole foods can make your gut population thrive.
The Gut-Brain Highway
The Gut-Brain Axis (GBA) is a communication network including the gut, central nervous system, autonomic nervous system, enteric nervous system, brain, spinal cord, and hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis.
Another way to think of GBA is like a two-way highway. It lets your gut and brain chat with each other, exchanging signals through nerves, hormones, and even metabolism.
Through this bidirectional communication chain, the gut can influence and be influenced neurally, hormonally, and metabolically. So, when you're stressed, it can throw this communication out of balance, leading to a disrupted gut.
Many microorganisms in the Gastrointestinal Tract (GIT) are located in the large bowel where they play an essential role in digestion. The gut microbiota ferments nondigestible food components whose nutrients would be inaccessible otherwise.
Essentially they work their magic on foods that your body can't fully digest, producing helpful substances like short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These SCFAs then travel through your bloodstream, giving energy to other organs and even influencing your immune system.
More Bacteria in the Gut is… Better?
Though the gut is highly individual, generally a reduction or elimination of gut bacteria is associated with negative health effects, while an increase in diverse bacteria improves metabolic functions and immunity.
Exercise plays a positive role in energy homeostasis and regulation. In other words, exercise can be a trusty sidekick in bettering your gut health.
Even simple activities like walking can speed up digestion, improve blood flow to your gut, and keep nasty issues like bloating and constipation at bay.
Exercise has also been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer, diverticulosis, and IBD. Endurance exercise, however, has a converse effect due to a reduction of blood flow. Short, intentional exercise sessions show to be superior for promoting a healthy gut.
Bueller, Bueller… Butyrate!
Here's where things get even cooler. Researchers found that people who stay fit have more diverse gut bacteria, and they produce something called butyrate.
Butyrate is like a special fuel for your gut cells, reducing inflammation and stress. This not only keeps your gut happy but also reaches your brain, potentially slowing down degenerative diseases like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, stroke and autism.
So, by keeping your body moving, you're giving your gut and brain a serious boost.
All in all, exercise can help improve your gut. Walking, biking and other core focused exercises like yoga, crunches, and pelvic floor activation will help aid in digestion.
These low intensity exercises paired with strength training lead to improved lean muscle mass, lower inflammation and better metabolic health. Daily exercise recommendations as dictated by WHO are 3 days of 30 minutes of exercise per week.
Feed Your Gut with Goodness
Butyrate isn't the only heavy hitter here. Certain foods can also support its production. Ever heard of resistant starches?
These are foods like less-than-ripe bananas, plantains, and cooked-then-cooled potatoes or rice. They help make butyrate in your gut.
Other foods like dairy, legumes, rolled oats, whole grains, and fibrous fruits and veggies (like apple peels, broccoli, and asparagus) also play a part.
And let's not forget fiber! Women should aim for around 20-25g of fiber a day, while men should shoot for 30-38g.
Your Gut Loves a Good Workout
Age can also play a factor in gut biodiversity. A study on athletes of all ages showed lower inflammatory markers. This proves that exercise can lead to less inflammation and improved metabolic markers regardless of age.
A study from the Canadian Journal of Cardiology from 2014 suggests “ the combination of high intensity interval training (HIIT) and high quality diet could prevent cardiovascular disease development”.
Another study focusing specifically on obese subjects shows that diet and exercise showed improvement in sleep quality in addition to the microbiome composition.
Exercise for a Healthier Gut (inside and out!)
Though we are still discovering much about the gut microbiome, we can see that there is a direct correlation between intentional exercise, diet, and a diverse gut microbiome.
A healthy gut reduces inflammation, obesity related diabetes, cardiovascular disease and IBD. If you’ve been experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s best to gather a support system.
Meeting with a gastroenterologist and/or a nutrition coach can help you build a game plan to manage your symptoms.
This is where The Perfect Workout can help.
Our dedicated team of certified nutrition coaches can help you build healthy lifestyle habits to manage and improve your symptoms.
Email [email protected] to get started.
- Kirsten A. Burgomaster, Scott C. Hughes, George J. F. Heigenhauser, Suzanne N. Bradwell, and Martin J. Gibala (2005), Six sessions of sprint interval training increases muscle oxidative potential and cycle endurance capacity in humans. Journal of Applied Physiology 98:6, 1985-1990
- Saltin, B., Nazar, K., Costill, D.L., Stein, E., Jansson, E., Essén, B. and Gollnick, P.D. (1976), The Nature of the Training Response; Peripheral and Central Adaptations to One-Legged Exercise. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica, 96: 289-305.
- Steele, James and Fischer, James and Bruce-Low, Steward. (2012). Resistance Training to Momentary Muscular Failure Improves Cardiovascular Fitness in Humans: A Review of Acute Physiological Responses and Chronic Physiological Adaptations. Journal of Exercise Physiology Online, June 2012, 15 (3), pp. 53-80
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