Why Exercise Is Good for the Gut (& Not Just for Making It Smaller!)

Physical Exercise

Why Exercise Is Good for the Gut (& Not Just for Making It Smaller!)

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Exercise improving cardiovascular health? You bet! Exercise helps you lose weight? Makes sense! Exercise strengthening bones and building muscle? For sure! But what about exercise for improving your gut health? If you think the connection may be stretching it a bit… read on! New research is proving the correlation between physical fitness and improvement in the gut microbiome. 

The Importance of Gut Microbiome Diversity 

To discover the connection between working out and gut health, let’s look at what constitutes a “healthy gut” in the first place. You may think it has to do with having a plethora of good bacteria and doing away with all those “bad” bacteria that can wreak havoc on your GI tract and your whole body. 

If so, you may be seeing only part of the picture. Experts do agree that a larger proportion of good bacteria versus opportunistic (“bad”) bacteria is better than the reverse. However, it is the diversity of bacteria in your GI tract in general that moves the body towards health.

Think of it this way: would you rather meander through a beautiful garden that is full of a variety of wonderful vegetables, herbs, fruits, and flowers, as well as bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds? Or a sterile wasteland with just a few patches of manicured grass? Diversity is healthy. This is one thing our aesthetic sense – and our bodies – know for sure!

Studies have shown that gut flora diversity can lead to lower weight gain [1] and the prevention of chronic diseases. One 2016 study by French investigators suggested the reintroduction of certain key predatory bacteria into the gut environment (especially those typically lost by eating a Western diet), for improving overall health [2].

To understand the importance of gut bacteria diversity, consider this statement published in a report for the journal Current Allergy and Asthma Reports [3] by representatives from the World Universities Network, Deakin University in Melbourne, and the Perth Children’s Hospital:

…the impact of changes at the immune-microbiota interface are directly relevant to broader discussions concerning rapid urbanization, antibiotics, agricultural practices, environmental pollutants, highly processed foods/beverages and socioeconomic disparities–all implicated in the NCD [Non-communicable diseases] pandemic. 

The Australian study examined data on lack of gut diversity and diet and saw it as part of the global health crisis known as dysbiosis, or “life in distress [4].” 

Infographic with list of reasons why exercise is good for gut health

Exercise and Gut Health: What the Research Shows So Far 

While science now confirms the importance of gut biodiversity for overall health and has also linked lack of diversity to the “Standard American Diet,” the connection between exercise and gut health, in general, is still relatively unknown. The evidence is mounting, however. 

New research out of Canada published in the journal Microbiome found that increased cardiorespiratory fitness can increase diversity by about 20% [5]. The researchers from the University of British Columbia noted this connection after witnessing butyrate levels going up dramatically after exercise. 

Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid which is associated with beneficial bacteria. Some of this bacterium include various kinds of Erysipelotrichaceae, Roseburia, Clostridiales, and Lachnospiraceae. 

Evidence suggests that short-chain fatty acids can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and other kinds of inflammatory diseases. 

On the other hand, another study conducted by Washington University found that obesity may correspond to higher numbers of “energy harvesting” gut bacteria [6]. Still, others have found that the reverse is also true: increased movement can lead to lower numbers of these kinds of bacteria and increased numbers of “lean microbiota.” The way gut bacteria affect obesity is often referred to by looking at the ratio between two types of common gut bacteria: Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes [7].

On a similar front, a 2014 investigation conducted by the Mayo Clinic and published in the journal Molecular Neurodegeneration found that both improved diet and increased exercise can have an effect on anxiety levels as well as cognitive health specifically through changes to the gut microbiota [8]. And finally, perhaps the most significant study on the subject came out this year (2018) through the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This was the first study ever to prove that gut bacteria diversity can be enhanced by exercise alone [9]. 

Ready, Set, Get Moving (and Stay Moving!) 

If you think that such drastic changes in your gut microbiome are only for high-powered athletes, think again! The studies mentioned above used a variety of movement and endurance modalities at different levels to prove that exercise improves gut health. 

The consensus amongst them all, however, is that for positive changes in gut health to stick, exercise must be done consistently and regularly. 

For example, in the University of Illinois study, participants did aerobic exercises for 30 to 60 minutes, three times a week, for six weeks. They then took six weeks off, reverting to their sedentary lifestyles. Measurements taken after the six weeks of cardio showed drastic changes such as the ones mentioned above. After six weeks of not exercising, however, gut flora diversity returned to the pre-exercise state. 

“This tells us that exercise needs to be done regularly and that stopping exercise causes reversion, not surprising as this is evident in other exercise training-induced adaptations in other tissues like muscle,” says Dr. Jeffrey Woods, Ph.D., head researcher of the University of Illinois study and professor of kinesiology and community health. 

A New Way of Looking at Exercise Health Benefits 

The gut microbiome is the storehouse for over 80% of your immune system cells [10]. And as we have just discovered, the bacteria that live in there are responsible for everything from the mental capacity to weight gain. The field of physical fitness, as well as the presence of the gut microbiome, is just beginning, and those doing this research hope it will spread awareness for everyone’s health.

“They [i.e., gut flora] have been completely ignored until about ten years ago. Now there has been an explosive growth of interest in this area,” said Dr. Emeran Mayer, author of The Mind-Gut Connection, in a recent interview for the online publication Healthline [11]. 

They have a very important role in all aspects of health, particularly metabolic health. They have a very important role in most of our organ functions and… play important roles in some disease like obesity, depression and autism spectrum disorders. 

According to 2010 statistics, between 60 and 70 million Americans suffer from some kind of gut discomfort, condition, or disease. By now this number may be much higher. The biggest factor in determining gut health, and health in general, lies in microbiome diversity. But now you can take action with an easy way to help your gut and the rest of your body… 

Get moving, stay moving, and make a difference in your health today!


One of the best ways to support good gut health is with a quality probiotic supplement. ProBiotixx from Organixx contains three amazing components that will improve your digestion, support your immune system, and help restore healthy bacteria in your gut.

Sources:

  1. Gut microbiome diversity and high-fibre intake are related to lower long-term weight gain
  2. Gut Microbiota Diversity and Human Diseases: Should We Reintroduce Key Predators in Our Ecosystem?
  3. Immune-Microbiota Interactions: Dysbiosis as a Global Health Issue.
  4. What Causes Dysbiosis and How Is It Treated?
  5. Cardiorespiratory fitness as a predictor of intestinal microbial diversity and distinct metagenomic functions
  6. An obesity-associated gut microbiome with increased capacity for energy harvest.
  7. Association between body mass index and Firmicutes/Bacteroidetes ratio in an adult Ukrainian population
  8. Diet and exercise orthogonally alter the gut microbiome and reveal independent associations with anxiety and cognition
  9. Exercise alone alters our gut microbiota
  10. Allergy and the gastrointestinal system
  11. Research Says Exercise Also Improves Your Gut Bacteria

Article Summary

  • The diversity of bacteria in your GI tract moves your body towards proper health.

  • Studies have shown that gut flora diversity can lead to lower weight gain and the prevention of chronic diseases.

  • Science confirms the importance of gut biodiversity for overall health and has also linked lack of diversity to the “Standard American Diet.

  • Evidence suggests that short-chain fatty acids can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and other kinds of inflammatory diseases. 

  • In order for positive changes in your gut health to stick, exercise must be done consistently and regularly. Get moving, stay moving, and make a difference in your health today!

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