Can exercise improve gut health?

We often hear about all the health benefits of regular physical activity such as increased strength, longevity, better sleep, and better mood. But did you know that physical activity can also help with your overall gut health and digestion? It’s true! Exercise-induced changes in the gut microbiome likely have implications for both gut and whole-body health. Decreased exercise and increased consumption of food, on the other hand, disrupt the health of our gut. We reviewed some recent research and found some promising correlations between exercising and gut health. 

Physical Activity Increases Gut Motility 

What does increased gut motility mean? In a nutshell, moving our body also moves our bowels! Exercise reduces the transit time1 in the intestines (decreased time between bowel movements) and has been shown to accelerate the movement of gas through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract as well. This means that exercise can help keep us regular, which is especially helpful for older individuals who struggle with regularity.

READ MORE: 10 tips for easy, daily self-care

Physical Activity Can Increase Healthy Bacteria in the Gut 

A review of recent research shows the profound effects of exercise on the composition of our beneficial gut bacteria. These researchers determined that despite differences in diet, types of animals studied, and duration of training intensity and frequency, most studies showed an increase in Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium (both beneficial bacteria strains) following exercise. Some of the studies even showed a reduction in bad (pathogenic) bacteria after exercising voluntarily for 6-12 weeks. This means exercising consistently may actually help to balance out our gut bacteria.

READ MORE: What role does exercise play in reducing inflammation?

Physical Activity Can Modulate the Distribution of Bacteria in the Gut

Exercising can actually increase the diversity of gut microbes and modulate the distribution of microbes throughout the intestines. Researchers compared the gut microbe distribution of obese adults who performed aerobic exercise for 10 weeks. What they found was an increase in bacteroidetes (with more bacteroidetes, there is a decreased risk of obesity). Bacteroidetes2 are prominent bacteria in the gut, which feed off fat and help to speed up our metabolism. Leaner individuals typically have higher bacteroidetes.

The same researchers also found an association between exercise and a decrease in Firmicutes. Higher rates of Firmicutes are associated with obesity and are also associated with stronger sugar cravings. So exercise is not just about burning off calories. We also can get leaner through exercise because our microbes are diversifying!

Physical Activity Can Help Produce Short-Chained Fatty Acids (SCFA)

Think of Short-Chained Fatty Acids (SCFA) as food for our beneficial bacteria (we have to keep them fed)! SCFA contribute to our immune health and brain function. SCFAs3 might play a key role in the prevention and treatment of metabolic syndrome, bowel disorders, and many other conditions. SCFA’s are produced by our gut bacteria through the metabolism of plant fiber (non-digestible fiber in fruits and vegetables). In short, SCFA’s are metabolites of this fiber and feed our good gut bacteria.

Recent studies4 showed regular exercise increased fecal concentrations of the three most prominent SCFA’s: acetate, propionate, and butyrate. The levels of these SCFAs decreased once exercise ceased. Therefore, exercising can help to keep our healthy bacteria nourished as well! 

It’s exciting to know that exercising induces functional changes within our gut! This gives us yet another reason to keep moving and adhere to regular exercise. Summer is starting; we encourage you to get outside and get moving (by exercising outside, you are doubling up on the health benefits)! And remember to use RESTORE Sinus Spray™ to help hydrate and protect your nasal passages from environmental factors. The benefits for our body run all the way down to our microbes.