Physical Fitness to Get Your Gut Health in Gear

A lot can happen in 42 days.

Habits form, people fall in love, zucchinis grow. 

And according to recent research, the bacteria in the gut microbiome changes after only 42 days — or six weeks — of exercise. That’s without changing your diet, medication, or anything else. 

A burgeoning field of study, the gut microbiome has been scientifically verified to impact almost every area of a functioning life… 

Our moods, skin quality, digestive health, energy levels, appetites, propensity towards diseases, and much more.

By now, your New Year’s resolutions may have gone by the wayside. According to a survey conducted last year by NPR, exercising more is the number one resolution among participants… This could be a great time to refocus and recommit to your goals. 

Discovering an additional, and possibly more impactful, benefit from exercising could be critical to helping those resolutions stick. 

You see, gut flora is very sensitive and reactive to any changes in its environment. Its composition can be affected by your diet, your stress, vices, diseases, sleep patterns, medications, etc. If regular exercise is part of the magic potion that promotes the growth and health of positive gut bacteria, then it might be a more compelling reason to stay fit than even, say, perfecting your beach body. 

Let’s take a look at why that is.

What We Know 

In the previously referenced study done on the effect of exercise on the microbiome, the researchers found that after only six weeks, they saw certain microbes increase, and others decrease.

Among the increased microbes were ones that help short-chain fatty acids develop. That’s a good thing.

You see, these acids help to reduce the risk of inflammatory disease, an incredibly common gut problem. Inflamed intestines bring so many issues, from IBS to leaky gut to diverticulitis. Short-chain fatty acids also suppress the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

When you exercise, you increase blood flow in your body, which helps hormones travel more quickly and efficiently, and assists organisms moving through the intestines by strengthening metabolic health and allowing them to relocate depending on the body’s needs. 

Not only that, but cardiorespiratory physical activity in particular is also known to advance bacterial diversity in the gut due to the increased efficiency of oxygen delivery during exercise.

So exercising intensely can help restore balance in the gut that isn’t working the way it’s designed to. 

And finally, simply having extra weight isn’t great for your gut’s bacterial populations. Weight applying pressure to the stomach can actually send food and stomach acid back upwards towards the esophagus, causing heartburn (which is actually a condition related to your gut’s health.)

But here’s the kicker…

Staying the Course

Exercise’s positive impact on the gut’s microbiome only matters if the exercise is a sustained effort.

Once you stop exercising, gut composition (at least in the case of the study) returned to its pre-fitness state. 

The daily part is the key component.

Here’s what you should do:

  1. Make fitness a daily priority. If it’s difficult for you to engage in high intensity exercises every day due to physical constraints, or even just a crowded schedule, that’s okay! While high intensity workouts do promote better oxygen flow and circulation, you can do low intensity exercises that will help your gut as well. In fact, simply lifting weights can help your bowels function more effectively!
  2. Fold high intensity workouts into your routine. If you already have gut issues, some people find that high intensity training irritates their digestive system. Use it sparingly, if that’s the case. If not, get your body acquainted with rapid squat sets, brief sprinting, box jumps, and burpees.
  3. Include mindful fitness. Not all high intensity workouts need to feel like you’re training for the NFL. Practice resistance training, hot yoga, exhilarating hikes. This is important not only in the kind of fitness you’re practicing, but the way you’re practicing it. Your body physically responds to dread, so work on reframing the relationship you have with exercise. Remember that this isn’t about fitting into the size you want — it’s about fueling your body with the bacteria it needs to build a you that functions better than you could’ve imagined.

While you’re trying to stay healthy during this difficult time, remember that all roads lead back to the gut. 

Start by thinking inward.

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Dr. Pedram Shojai

NY Times Best Selling author and film maker. Taoist Abbot and Qigong master. Husband and dad. I’m here to help you find your way and be healthy and happy. I don’t want to be your guru…just someone who’ll help point the way. If you’re looking for a real person who’s done the work, I’m your guy. I can light the path and walk along it with you but can’t walk for you.