We all know that regular exercise is important for maintaining our health, but have you ever thought about how it’s impacting on your gut health?

Person wearing running shoes walking up stairs

Can Exercise Impact The Gut Microbiota?

Our gut microbiota is made up of trillions of good and bad bacteria. The more diverse we can make it, the better for our health, particularly if we increase the beneficial bacteria. The good news is that exercise can really have a positive impact on these little guys living in our colon. Whether you’re a professional rugby player or weekend gym warrior, research has shown that getting those steps up and breaking a sweat can make a difference when it comes to keeping our guts happy and healthy!

The Benefits of Exercise

There are many reasons to exercise including improved cardio-respiratory fitness, improved muscular fitness and reducing your risk of developing certain diseases.

Keeping active stimulates normal intestinal contractions which helps digested food pass through the body.

Research has shown that increasing physical activity can reduce the severity of gastrointestinal symptoms in people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). This doesn’t mean going crazy and spending your whole life in the gym. Even going for a gentle cycle can help to alleviate symptoms.

silhouette of woman doing yoga

Looking for something a little more chilled?

Yoga has been shown to be effective at reducing IBS symptoms. Food is a trigger for 84% of people with IBS but for some, food may not be the only trigger. Stress can have a big impact on our gut (as well as diet, medications and sleep). Yoga reduces stress and while it is still unknown what exactly causes IBS, research suggests that stress is one of the contributing factors. People have reported improvements in their IBS symptoms as well as better energy levels and sleep after 12 weeks of yoga. New yoga mat for Christmas anyone?

What are the Recommendations?

Currently, there is not enough evidence to give out specific advice for exercise to improve gut health. For overall health, it is recommended that adults do at least 30 minutes a day of moderate activity, 5 days a week (150 minutes per week) or at least 75 minutes a week of vigorous activity, with 2-3 days of resistance exercises. This might be a good place to start!

Too much exercise for your gut?

Extreme amounts of exercise (as in two or more hours at 60% V02max kind of extreme) produces a classical stress response in the body which can cause unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms like abdominal bloating, belching and diarrhoea.

Please note, these unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms are in extreme cases and are highly unlikely to occur if you’re sticking to the physical activity recommendations!

Two people jogging in daytime

Bringing it all Together

Regular moderate exercise is good for you and your gut! When it comes to exercise, the key is to pick an activity that you enjoy and can incorporate into your everyday life.

Remember, before beginning a new exercise program, always speak with your doctor.

Seren Pollard, Student Dietitian

Seren Pollard, Student Dietitian studying MSc in Clinical Nutrition & Dietetics

9 December, 2019 | Health

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