In recent years, there has been growing awareness of the connection between gut health and overall health. There are estimated to be over 40 trillion microbial cells in your GI system - tiny bacterial cells that promote metabolism and absorption of nutrients (O’Brien et al.). The greater the diversity of these cells, the more benefits they provide, with a higher diversity associated with reduced inflammation and a stronger immune system (Clauss et al.). There has even been research exploring the potential role that increasing your microbiome diversity can play on combating systemic diseases such as malignant melanoma, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, etc.
So what is the relationship between gut health and exercise?
Although the research is still evolving in regards to this topic, there is so far a steady consensus that exercise is positively associated with GI health; that is, people who regularly participate in moderate intensity exercise tend to have a greater microbiome diversity compared to sedentary individuals (O’Brien et al.). Interestingly, the literature shows this improved diversity is more so with endurance-related exercises (i.e. running, cycling, etc.) compared to resistance training. Does this mean you should only focus on cardiovascular activities? Of course not! But it does suggest that if you are wanting to improve your gut health, you should be sure to include aerobic exercises in addition to strength training.
Now that we know how important gut health is, how can we improve it?
Here are our top 5 tips:
1. EXERCISE: Like we previously mentioned, focus on endurance based/moderate intensity exercise in addition to strength training.
2. HYDRATE: Staying properly hydrated will help optimize your GI tract efficiency and decrease your risk of constipation. Aim for at least half of your body weight in ounces of liquid per day, with at least two-thirds being water.
3. DIET VARIETY: When it comes to diet, think about the Skittle’s slogan, “Eat the rainbow,” but in this case we’re talking about rainbow of fruits and vegetables, not candy 😉
4. INCREASE FIBER INTAKE: The average recommendation for fiber intake is at least 25-30 grams per day. Some examples of fiber-rich foods include beans, avocados, whole grains, raspberries, etc.
5. STRESS MANAGEMENT: Chronic stress can inhibit your GI system and negatively impact your gut microbiome. Try to regularly engage in stress reduction strategies, whether that be prayer, stretching, reading a book, etc.