It’s well known that diet plays a central role in gut health. But your physical activity level is just as important.

Recent research shows that regular exercise results in widespread benefits for human health. And it all comes down to your gut microbiome.

This article will highlight the benefits of exercise on your gut health. You’ll see that exercise and a healthy gut go hand in hand.

6 Ways Exercise Improves Your Gut Health

Exercise affects your gut health in many different ways. Keep reading to discover the digestive benefits of regular physical activity.

1) Regulates Bowel Movements

Exercise strengthens the muscles in the gastrointestinal tract, which improves intestinal contractions. This stimulates the movement of waste through the colon.

Increasing the speed of bowel motility prevents your body from absorbing too much water from the stool. This can help you avoid hard, painful stools that are difficult to pass. Regular physical activity can ease constipation and improve the frequency of bowel movements.

2) Improves Microbiome Health

Research shows that exercise, regardless of diet, increases the diversity of the gut microbiome. It also improves the growth of beneficial bacterial species.

Improving the health of your gut microbiome keeps your body in homeostasis and has beneficial effects on your:

  • Digestion
  • Immune system
  • Metabolism
  • Brain health

3) Boosts Your Immune System

Incredibly, 70% of the immune system resides in the gut. If your gut health is compromised, it leaves you susceptible to a wide range of digestive conditions and general health issues.

Exercise strengthens your immune system and reduces your risk of communicable and non-communicable diseases. Higher activity levels boost the mucosal immunity in the gut and improve the integrity of the gut barrier. This can prevent leaky gut or increased intestinal permeability.

4) Increases Your Metabolism

Living a physically active lifestyle increases your metabolism, which can prevent obesity and help you achieve a healthy weight.

Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce your risk of the following conditions:

  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
  • Colon cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

5) Reduces Stress

Exercise reduces the production of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. It also increases the production of mood-boosting endorphins.

Your brain health directly affects your digestive health through the gut-brain connection. Lower stress levels can prevent the growth of inflammatory gut bacteria and reduce symptoms of IBD and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

6) Prevents Colon Cancer

Remarkably, research shows that higher physical activity levels may prevent colon cancer. This benefit occurs with at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise such as brisk walking.

One study found that exercise after a colon cancer diagnosis can lower the risk of recurrence and death by 50%. Exercise combined with a healthy diet of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains may have even greater protective benefits against colon cancer.

How Does Exercise Prevent Colon Cancer?

Exercise reduces chronic inflammation in the colon. This may prevent cellular mutations that lead to colon cancer growth. Regular physical activity may also lower the risk of colon cancer by improving bowel motility. Frequent bowel movements decrease the time the colon is exposed to carcinogens in the stool.

What’s more, exercise may prevent colon cancer by affecting your insulin levels. Regular exercise reduces fasting insulin concentrations and improves insulin sensitivity. Abnormally high insulin levels in the body can increase colon cancer growth and reduce the effectiveness of chemotherapy. This is because colon cancer cells contain insulin receptors that increase cell reproduction and prevent cell death.

Research shows that 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week can lower insulin concentrations in stage I-III colon cancer survivors. This may reduce the recurrence of colon cancer.

Gut Health Exercises

Some exercises are better than others when it comes to your gut health. Especially if you have existing digestive issues. Here are two exercise strategies that you can use to optimize your digestion.

Low-Intensity Exercise

Low-intensity exercise refers to steady-state exercise. It generally increases your heart rate to 50% of its maximum capacity. This type of exercise is less strenuous on your heart, lungs, joints, and digestive system.

Examples of low-intensity exercises include:

  • Walking
  • Yoga
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Low-impact strength training
  • Stretching
  • Rowing

In many cases, low-intensity exercise is best for people with new or existing digestive issues. This type of exercise can improve bowel motility and prevent constipation. It can also reduce inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract.

High-Intensity Exercise

High-intensity exercise is an exercise that increases your heart rate to 80% of its maximum capacity. This type of exercise is more physically demanding. It involves periods of intense exercise with short rest breaks in between.

Examples of high-intensity exercises include:

  • Jumping rope
  • Sprinting
  • Push-ups
  • Burpees
  • Spin classes
  • Mountain climbers
  • Heavy lifting

High-intensity exercise is beneficial for healthy people. But this type of exercise may worsen symptoms in people with digestive issues.

During intense exercise, your body increases blood flow to the contracting muscles to supply oxygen. This reduces blood flow to the digestive tract, which can prevent water absorption in the colon and lead to diarrhea.

High impact exercises may also trigger acid reflux and heartburn. Jumping, bending, and running can cause stomach acid to splash up into the esophagus.

High-intensity exercise acts as a stressor on your body. It produces an acute inflammatory response that promotes cellular repair and regeneration. For people in good health, this can improve their overall health and digestion. However, this increase in inflammation can cause problems for people with digestive issues.

The Bottom Line

Many forms of exercise are beneficial for your gut health. But for people with digestive issues, high-intensity exercise may do more harm than good.

No matter the type of exercise, staying hydrated while working out is important. Drinking plenty of water can prevent constipation and acid reflux. It can also improve nutrient absorption.

You should aim to get 150 minutes of exercise per week. For example, you could exercise 30 minutes daily, five days a week.

Increasing your physical activity can:

  • Make your bowel movements more regular
  • Improve the health of your gut microbiome
  • Boost your immune system
  • Increase your metabolism
  • Reduce stress levels
  • Prevent colon cancer

If you have concerns about your gut health, you can make an appointment online or call our office at (210) 615-8308.