Why Exercise is Good for Gut Health

Exercise can provide many benefits for the gut, even in its most gentle forms. Exercise can be really beneficial for the gut microbiome, and here we will explain how. 

When exercising, it’s important to understand what happens in the body, why it’s good for you, and when to stop. Read on to discover all you need to know about the pros and cons of exercise. 

Exercise and the Gut

Exercise can help the good bacteria in our gut microbiome to thrive and multiply. This makes for a much healthier and more balanced microbiome, leading to better overall health.

Studies have shown that whilst exercise helps the gut microbiome, after 6 weeks of no exercise, the gut reverts to its original state, so consistency is key to the maintenance of the gut.1

Exercise is a beneficial factor in digestion. During exercise, our intestines naturally contract, which helps pass waste through our system. Food travels through our digestive tract, which runs from the mouth to the anus.

If the food isn’t digested properly, it can lead to digestive issues such as bloating, excess gas, diarrhoea and constipation.1

Exercise can also boost our immune system, as most cells that make up our immune system are found in the gut. As exercise improves gut health, this improves the immune system, allowing us to stay healthy.

The immune system, when functioning well, fights off foreign invaders to stop us from becoming unwell.1

Why is Exercise Good for you?

A lack of exercise can cause excess fat around the torso, which is linked to a host of chronic diseases. Exercising regularly can help reduce our risk of developing chronic illnesses such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease and help regulate blood pressure and cholesterol. 

Exercise can help to burn calories which can aid in reducing fat. Building muscle also speeds up the metabolism, so your basal metabolic rate (the rate your body burns calories simply by existing) will be improved, reducing your risk of obesity and the health problems accompanying it.2

Mental Health and The Gut

The link between mental health and the gut is becoming increasingly evident through extensive research. Serotonin, our “happy hormone”, is primarily made in the gut - up to 95% of it.3

If the gut is unhealthy, serotonin production can be limited or skewed, which limits our ability to feel happy and increases the likelihood of developing mental health issues such as depression. 

It can be a struggle to exercise when your mental health is low. Poor mental health can come hand in hand with fatigue, poor concentration, digestive issues, trouble sleeping and appetite changes. All of these can make the drive to exercise much less. 

To encourage yourself to exercise, take the pressure off to work your most challenging every time. How about a 10-minute walk on the treadmill instead of your full workout? Chances are you will feel a sense of success just by achieving this smaller win. 

You may even feel more motivated to exercise more after this due to the release of endorphins. Just a 10-minute walk can also aid your digestive system, another issue often associated with mental health conditions. 

Another motivation tip to exercise when feeling low is to arrange a time to exercise with friends. Motivation can increase when you aren’t solely doing it for your benefit. Encouragement from others can do wonders for your drive, and socialising is an equally important aspect of keeping your mental health well. 

Can you Over-Exercise?

You need to be careful if your calorie deficit puts you into starvation mode; your body doesn’t have enough calories to function. Exercise burns calories, and you could become unwell if you aren’t putting in enough calories to sustain this. 

Exercise releases the hormone cortisol, which plays a vital role in controlling the body’s use of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates and regulating your metabolism.4

Your body can only produce so much cortisol, so over-exercising may mean you use up your body’s capacity and can then damage your body by continuing.5

Overtraining syndrome (OTS) can occur when you exercise so often or at such a high intensity that your body can’t recover from the stress. The symptoms of OTS include fatigue, decreased performance, altered mood and trouble sleeping.6

As long as you are allowing your muscles to heal by taking rest days, there’s no such thing as a bad workout, and the risk of developing OTS or injury is limited. 

Final Thoughts

Even if you only manage 10 minutes of walking on a treadmill, it’s usually better than no exercise. 

Being too hard on yourself can reduce motivation completely. It's important to give yourself a break and live within your capabilities. You may find you’re more capable than you think when you take the pressure off yourself. 

Remember to take rest days - they are just as important as the exercise as they give your muscles a chance to recover. Without rest days, you are at a high risk of injury. 

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