The effect of exercise on gut health

Most of us are well aware that exercising regularly is beneficial for weight management, can increase our feelings of happiness, strengthens our muscles and bones, enhances our energy levels and can motivate us in achieving our nutrition goals. Interestingly, recent evidence has emerged that suggests exercise can alter the bacterial composition of our gut microbiome.

Our gut microbiome contains over 100 trillion different bacterial species, and can be influenced by our diet, weight, medical history and the use of antibiotics. There is emerging research to suggest that the composition of gut is largely responsible for our overall health and wellbeing. Exercise has recently been proven to have a positive effect and increase the diversity of bacterial cells within the digestive system.

A recent study which looked at the effect of exercise on gut bacteria in rodents, found that regardless of their weight there was an altered bacterial state. Additionally, evidence also confirmed that irrespective of whether the mice was following a low-fat/high-fat diet, their gut bacteria was reformed after running (the degree of alteration was distance dependant).

Research is also proving results in humans, as well as rodents. A study recently looked at the bacterial composition of professional rugby players found that the variety of species was more diverse in these athletes, compared to non-athletes. It is important to recogniser that elite athletes are also likely to have greater metabolic and inflammatory markers, which may also effect their gut microbiome.

Aside from exercise and all the additional benefits we reap from keeping physically active, there are a range of other lifestyle practise that can be done to ensure maximal variety of bacterial cells within the gut microbiome:

  • Eat a wide variety of fibrous, plant-based foods
  • Include resistant starch and prebiotic containing foods daily (banana’s, potatoes, lentils, legumes, onion, garlic, asparagus)
  • Consider a probiotic supplement
  • Try a range of fermented foods (yoghurt, kimchi, kombucha and tempeh)
  • Include adequate wholegrains in your diet
  • Be mindful of antibiotic use
  • Control your stress levels: try meditation, yoga, going for a walk or catching up with a friend
  • Think about your fluids. Aim for water as your sole source of hydration, and remember that alcohol can have a negative effect on your gut health
  • Control your intake of processed and packaged foods
  • See an Accredited Practising Dietitian for individualised advice.