In the gut, there is a pulsating universe of bacteria and microbes that interact, compete, and release various substances that are involved in weight control, inflammation, the immune system, and many other aspects of our health. Research shows that the composition and activity of the intestinal microbes is not only affected by our diet but also by exercise. Maybe these new research findings can give an extra kick to the training motivation?
Exercise is said to be able to contribute to an increased production of the intestinal bacteria that form short-chain fatty acids, which in turn can protect against gastrointestinal diseases and colon cancer. A research report describes how about 30 test subjects started exercising for six weeks. All received a significant increase in the intestinal bacteria that increase the production of important fatty acids such as butyric acid. After that, the participants had to return to their sedentary life, after which the number of short-chain fatty acids decreased again.
Studies have also shown that people who practice sports tend to have a different gut flora than those who live a sedentary lifestyle. However, research has difficulty determining whether it is exercise as such that affects the set of intestinal bacteria or whether there are other factors such as that people who exercise often tend to have healthier eating habits.
When we feel stressed, the body switches on adrenaline and other stress hormones. It is a positive survival instinct, but when we experience stress too often, it becomes negative. Health problems arise when high levels of stress become permanent and the body does not get the opportunity to recover. Even the intestinal bacteria are believed to be affected.
Research shows that mice exposed to stress had fewer good bacteria and more of the bad inflammation-driving bacteria. Studies in humans have also shown the same results. So considering that exercise can help us clear our thoughts and release stressful anxiety, exercise is supposed to be good even for those good guys in the gut.
Recharging the body with a good mix of sleep, diet and exercise is a winning concept. Sure, we can manage periods when one or the other is not fully met, but long periods without the body getting what it needs will wear on it in the long run. We are all also equipped with different abilities, conditions and baggage that affect how we tackle and cope with different stresses. While one person gets high heart rate and stress surges from traffic jams, another sees it as an opportunity to to sit back and breathe, and while one relaxes on the golf course, another might feel stressed and pressured to perform well. By giving yourself the best conditions, the odds of health naturally increase. And when it comes to the intestinal flora and exercise – choose a form of exercise that you enjoy. That does good for both body and soul, including those important bacteria in your gut.
Karl J.P. et al. Changes in intestinal microbiota composition and metabolism coincide with increased intestinal permeability in young adults under prolonged physiological stress. American Journal of Physiology. Gastrointestinal Liver Physiology, Vol 312, Issue 6, 559-571 (2017)
Mailing L. J. et al. Exercise and the gut microbiome. A review of the evidence, potential mechanisms, and implications for human health. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, Vol 47, Issue 2, 75-85 (2019)