Why You Should Move More to Boost Digestion
Regular movement and physical activity not only benefit your body but the trillions of organisms that make up your gut microbiome. Along with the foods that you eat, movement can influence the balance of beneficial bacteria in the body and support a normal immune response.
This article examines the relationship between physical activity and your gut microbiome, how this relationship impacts your immune system, and easy ways to become more active for your health.
How Physical Activity Supports a Healthy Gut
While physical activity can be simple in nature, the effects that it has on the body are pretty complex. Notably, regular movement and exercise can impact the health of your gut.
Athletes and physically active people have significant differences in the composition of their gut bacteria compared to sedentary adults. Multiple studies find that active people have a greater diversity of gut bacteria and a greater abundance of beneficial bacteria in the gut overall.
The gut bacteria of these athletes and active individuals may also be impacted by other changes that often accompany exercising – changes in diet, physical adaptations to exercise, and greater exposure to the outdoors.1
Consistently doing moderate exercise for as little as six weeks can improve gut microbiota diversity in the absence of dietary changes. In one study, previously sedentary women participated in a six-week program of endurance exercise without changing their diet. Researchers found that these women had an improvement in the composition of their gut bacteria and a decrease in an inflammatory molecule in the gut.2
Other studies in sedentary adults and animal models find similar results, with consistent exercise improving gut bacteria composition and the abundance of beneficial bacteria.1
Exercise, The Gut, and Your Immune System
The gut microbiota is an active component of your immune system. Collectively, your gut bacteria create metabolites from digesting fiber and other substances that send signals to the entire body.
Some metabolites are beneficial, such as short-chain fatty acids, which may support a normal inflammatory response. Researchers find that regular exercise and daily movement help increase the number of bacteria that produce these short-chain fatty acids.3
Increased diversity of gut bacteria also impacts gut permeability. The intestines require a certain level of permeability in order to allow necessary nutrients and water to pass into the body. However, a disruption of this permeability can lead to what is commonly known as a “leaky gut.”
A leaky gut can allow harmful substances to pass into the body, causing abnormal inflammation and an increased risk for illness. An imbalance of healthy bacteria in the gut can contribute to the risk of a leaky gut, while beneficial bacteria contribute to the mucosal layer that protects the integrity of the gut.4
As with most other things, balance with exercise is key. Prolonged bouts of intense training can reduce normal blood flow to the intestines and cause damage to the gut wall, increasing the risk of an abnormal inflammatory response and illness.1
To make the most of your fitness routine while supporting your gut health and immune function, consider these tips:
Get Enough Physical Activity
Research finds that moderate-intensity training is beneficial for supporting gut health. To get adequate movement in your routine, aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise to not only benefit your gut but your entire body. If your workout is more intense, you may need only 75 minutes of activity every week to support your health.
Vary Your Workout Routine
When exercising, you should do a mix of aerobic and resistance movements. To maximize your muscle growth, aim to do resistance training at least 2-3 times per week. For cardiovascular health and endurance, try to do cardio at least 5 days per week. Adding balance and flexibility exercises to your routine can help prevent injury and improve your performance in both aerobic and resistance exercises.
Choose Enjoyable Activities
Hitting the gym isn’t for everyone, and that is okay. There are many ways to start an active lifestyle, and doing different activities can keep fitness fun. Consider activities like hiking, dance, HIIT, weight-lifting, individual or team sports, rock climbing, or yoga to get started. Over time, you can find the activities that work best for you and fit into your lifestyle.
Create a Healthy Lifestyle
If you’re adding physical activity to support your gut health, don’t forget the other actions you can take to have a diverse microbiota and strong immune system. Eating a healthy diet fortified with probiotics and prebiotics, managing your stress levels, getting adequate sleep, avoiding tobacco products, and limiting alcohol intake can all help gut health.
Mohr, A. E., et al. (2020). Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 17(1), 24. doi.org/10.1186/s12970-020-00353-w
Munukka, E., et al. (2018). Frontiers in microbiology, 9, 2323. doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2018.02323
Zheng, D., Liwinski, T., & Elinav, E. (2020). Cell Research, 30(6), 492–506. doi.org/10.1038/s41422-020-0332-7
Paray, B. A., Albeshr, M. F., Jan, A. T., & Rather, I. A. (2020). International journal of molecular sciences, 21(24), 9770. doi.org/10.3390/ijms21249770