The benefits of exercise on the microbiome

It is a common misconception that only nutrition affects our gut health. Whilst the foods we eat do have a huge impact on the health of our gut, this is only a small piece of the puzzle. Physical activity can be equally as important. Why? Physical activity can elicit positive physiological and psychological responses and induce compositional and functional changes in the microbiota. These changes however are often reversed once exercise training ceases.1

One of our experts, Ashley, explains more.



Immune Health

An optimal immune system has never been more important. Over 70% of our immune system can be found within our gut, home to 100 trillion types of bacteria. Exercise can improve the balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut. This plays an active role in supporting our immune system through inhibiting the growth of harmful opportunistic bacteria and aiding digestion and absorption of essential nutrients. In turn this contributes to preventing disease and improving our overall health.

Whilst most moderate exercise is great for a healthy mind and body, rebounding (an aerobic exercise that is performed while jumping on a mini-trampoline) has been shown to be particularly effective when it comes to stimulating your immune system to help your body get rid of toxins through increasing lymphatic drainage.


Bowel Regularity

Regular exercise improves the digestive processes through increasing muscle contractions that help to move the stools along the colon. Being sedentary can slow the digestive system, so if you are feeling sluggish or constipated increasing physical activity levels can help get things moving.

Moderate aerobic exercise such as walking or swimming for 20 to 30 minutes has been found to relieve constipation. Stress is also a risk factor for constipation, so try activities like yoga or tai chi that combine exercise and stress reduction.


IBS

Regular physical activity has been shown to improve gastrointestinal symptoms in irritable bowel syndrome. Sufferers who are physically active will face less symptom deterioration compared with physically inactive patients.

Light exercise such as yoga, walking or moderate aerobic activity may improve symptoms of IBS. Yoga is believed to be particularly effective when it comes to managing IBS, which is commonly a disorder of gut brain interaction.

Yoga focuses on the mind and body connection. Compositional changes to the gut microbiota as a result of light exercise in the form of yoga may improve messages travelling from the gut to the brain and vice versa via the vagus nerve.2,3


Diversity

Exercise also boosts levels of microbes that produce butyrate – a short chain fatty acid. Butyrate is responsible for many different functions, from producing satiety hormones that help curb hunger to promoting the growth and the survival of neurons in the brain.3,4

One study found that women who performed just three hours of light exercise had increased levels of certain strains of bacteria associated with improved metabolic health, lean body mass and reduced inflammation.5

This illustrates the importance of exercise, not only on the microbiome but on health as a whole. Beginning a new exercise regime can seem like a huge commitment but just 30 minutes of steady exercise, such as a brisk walk 3 times per week has been shown to have a beneficial effect.



What kind of exercise should you do?

Anything you enjoy and will do consistently, but keep in mind that balance is key. Whilst light to moderate exercise might ease symptoms, excessively intense exercise may exacerbate them.



References

1. Allen, J.M., Mailing, L.J., Niemiro, G.M., Moore, R., Cook, M.D., White, B.A., Holscher, H.D. and Woods, J.A., 2018. Exercise alters gut microbiota composition and function in lean and obese humans. Med Sci Sports Exerc50(4), pp.747-57.

2. D’Silva, A., MacQueen, G., Nasser, Y., Taylor, L.M., Vallance, J.K. and Raman, M., 2020. Yoga as a therapy for irritable bowel syndrome. Digestive diseases and sciences65(9), pp.2503-2514.

3. Dalton, A., Mermier, C. and Zuhl, M., 2019. Exercise influence on the microbiome–gut–brain axis. Gut Microbes10(5), pp.555-568.

4. Matsumoto, M., Inoue, R., Tsukahara, T., Ushida, K., Chiji, H., Matsubara, N. and Hara, H., 2008. Voluntary running exercise alters microbiota composition and increases n-butyrate concentration in the rat cecum. Bioscience, biotechnology, and biochemistry72(2), pp.572-576.

5. Bressa, C., Bailén-Andrino, M., Pérez-Santiago, J., González-Soltero, R., Pérez, M., Montalvo-Lominchar, M.G., Maté-Muñoz, J.L., Domínguez, R., Moreno, D. and Larrosa, M., 2017. Differences in gut microbiota profile between women with active lifestyle and sedentary women. PloS one12(2), p.e0171352.