Does Exercise Benefit Digestive Health?

by Joy Keller on Feb 21, 2017

Body Lab

Research shows that physical activity may alter bacterial composition and boost overall health.

Gut microbiota has been a hot topic recently, and for good reason, as it is a key indicator of health. Gut microbiota contains trillions of micro-organisms, including at least 1,000 species of known bacteria, with more than 3 million genes (Gut Microbiota for Health 2016). There are many benefits to having a healthy gut, including but not limited to

  • protection against metabolic disorders (Clarke et al. 2013);
  • production of some vitamins (B and K); and
  • immune system support.

    Researchers have discovered a link between exercise and the bacterial composition of the gut. Initial evidence suggests that exercise can alter the bacterial composition of the digestive system (University Health News Daily 2014). Diversity may be the key. The study found that athletes showed greater diversity in gut microbiota than control subjects. The athletes (rugby players) also had higher proportions of most types of micro-organisms. One particular bacterium, called Akkermansiaceae, found in greater amounts in the rugby players, has been linked to lower risk of obesity and of systemic inflammation (Reynolds 2014). Diet is still important, but could exercise be a legitimate ally in digestive health?

    Charlie Hoolihan, fitness researcher and personal training director at the Pelican Athletic Club in Mandeville, Louisiana, says that gut microbiota profiles, like DNA markers for exercise and nutrition, "represent a fascinating potential for individualization of diet, fitness routines and even medical prescriptions." However, he suggests fitness professionals take the results in stride, saying the research points out something we already know: Exercise is beneficial to your digestive process. "Now we have some hints about exercise's possible stimulus," he says. "These are just hints. My guess is that gut microbiota may be as complex as DNA and that attempts to make conclusions from the research for mainstream individualization may be a bit preliminary."

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    Clarke, S., et al. 2013. Exercise and associated dietary extremes impact on gut microbial diversity. Gut. doi:10.1136/gutjnl-2013-306541.

    Gut Microbiota for Health. 2016. Gut microbiota info. Accessed Dec. 2016.

    Reynolds, G. 2014. Exercise and the 'good' bugs in our gut. The New York Times. Accessed Dec. 2016.

    University Health News Daily. 2014. The benefits of exercise for digestive health. Accessed Dec. 2016.

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    About the Author

    Joy Keller

    Joy Keller IDEA Author/Presenter

    Joy Keller is executive editor of IDEA Fitness Journal and IDEA Fit Business Success, and is also a certified personal trainer, indoor cycling instructor, yoga teacher (RYT 200) and Reiki Master. Joy joined IDEA Health & Fitness Association in 2002, and brought with her a wealth of information about how to fine-tune communication channels, after having spent her formative career years specializing in business-to-business journalism. Before she even graduated with honors from the respected University of Georgia journalism school, Joy was offered a job at one of the most successful trade publishing companies in the southeast, Shore Varrone, Inc. She made her mark in the automotive aftermarket industry as a creative thinker and journalist with an intuitive knack for researching and understanding niche audiences. Joy has worked on several titles, including Auto Trim & Restyling News, Truck Accessory News, Digital Output Magazine, Retail & Construction News, Miata magazine, Ford Racing, and many more. Her passion, however, lies with health and fitness. She was the associate editor of ACE Certified News while working at the American Council on Exercise, and transitioned that publication from a newsletter to a magazine. She has enjoyed 17 years at IDEA, where she has launched several publications, including the award-winning Inner IDEA Body-Mind Spirit Review, IDEA Pilates Today and IDEA Fit Business Success. Joy is a content creator and media 2.0 advocate who takes pride in discovering the unique information needs of qualified audiences, and she is dedicated to serving those needs while following the highest available standards.