Does exercise change your microbiome?

We all know that exercise makes us feel better. But if you need another compelling reason to get to break a sweat, then you should know that…

Exercise can literally change the composition of your gut microbiome.

It’s no secret that our diet alters our gut health – in fact, it’s a scientifically well-established fact (Hills, et al., 2019). 

But a recent review of all the evidence available has some researchers believing that exercise can also alter the types of bacteria that reside in the gut and enrich the microbial diversity, which is essential for optimum health (Mailing, Allen, Buford, Fields, & Woods, 2019). It’s important to note that the majority of the studies reviewed had been conducted on athletes.

To demonstrate, there is one study that found exercise promotes the growth of bacteria which produces the fatty acid butyrate. This fatty acid supports repair of the gut lining and reduces inflammation, helping to prevent diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease and insulin resistance which is a precursor to diabetes (Matsumoto, et al., 2008). It has also been shown that exercise-induced shifts in the gut microbiota can also guard against obesity and improve metabolic function (Clarke & Mach, 2016). 

In short, physical exercise can provide tangible improvement for several markers associated with athletic performance and general health. This improvement includes repair and protection from disease.

To see whether these changes could only be attributed to athletes or fit people, there was an interesting study done with a group of women who were recovering from nonmetastatic breast cancer. They chose this cohort because the treatment depletes metabolic and cardiorespiratory fitness. The study implemented a six-week fitness protocol and multiple gut health indicators. The researchers established that participants with higher cardiorespiratory fitness also had more diverse bacterial populations in the gut, compared with peers who had low cardiorespiratory fitness (Carter, Hunter, & Blackston, 2019).

Overall, this indicates that exercising with an intensity that’s adequate to boost cardiorespiratory effectiveness will improve overall health by supporting better-balanced gut health.

Microbiome changes can also be seen following modest exercise regimes. Another study found that women who performed at least three hours of light exercise (walk or swim) per week had an increase in good bacteria compared with sedentary individuals (Bressa, et al., 2017).

What is the best type of exercise to improve your microbiome?

Physical activity can be loosely divided into two categories – strength and endurance. It is based on how your body produces energy to fuel your performance.

Strength sports require high-intensity effort – like weight lifting, sprinting and boxing. These sports build muscle mass by exercising your cells anaerobic pathways.

This type of exercise differs from endurance sports that allow the body to perform exercise at a lower intensity but for much more extended periods – such as long-distance running and cycling. Anything that gets your heart rate up and keeps it up for a prolonged period. This type of exercise is called aerobic because the body uses oxygen to transform fats and sugars into fuel. 

The research to date is currently indicating there is a positive relationship between microbiota abundance and overall diversity and cardiorespiratory fitness. Walking, running, cycling, even the elliptical machine and rower. 

There are still many questions surrounding the impact of type, duration and intensity of exercise on gut health that research is trying to answer. What is certain – when exercise is started, there is an apparent positive gut health effect. When it is stopped, there is a noticeable decline in the microbiota of the gut.

The best combination for a healthy gut is consistent exercise and a nutritious diet. The two work together as a synergistic team, and neither is at peak performance without the other.

So there are no excuses. Consistent moving of the body is mandatory for good gut health. 

What if you are exercising, but still need some help? 

Have a look at your diet. If you’re struggling to get the right nutrients to fuel your body and promote your gut health, along with your exercise, take a daily dose of Gut Performance®. It’s an active prebiotic to help bring your gut microbiome back to a healthy environment and give a boost to your positive improvements that all your exercise is doing.

Works Cited

  • Bressa, C., Bailen-Andrino, M., Perez-Santiago, J., Gonzalez-Soltero, R., Perez, M., Montalvo-Lominchar, M. G., . . . Larrosa, M. (2017). Differences in gut microbiota profile between women with active lifestyle and sedentary women. PLoS One, 12(2), e0171352. doi:https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0171352
  • Carter, S. J., Hunter, G. R., & Blackston, J. W. (2019). Gut microbiota diversity is associated with cardiorespiratory fitness in post-primary treatment breast cancer survivors. Exp. Physiol., 104, 529-539. doi:https://doi.org/10.1113/EP087404
  • Clark, A., & Mach, N. (2016). Exercise-induced stress behaviour, gut microbiota-brain axis and diet: a systematic review for athletes. Journal of the Internation Society of Sports Nutrition, 13, 43. doi:https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-016-0155-6
  • Hills, R. D., Pontefracts, B. A., Mishcon, H. R., Black, C. A., Sutton, S. C., & Theberge, C. r. (2019). Gut Microbiome: Profound Implications for Diet and Disease. Nutrients, 11(7), 1613. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11071613
  • Mailing, L. J., Allen, J. M., Buford, T. W., Fields, C. J., & Woods, J. A. (2019). Exercise and the Gut Microbiome: A Review of the Evidence, Potential Mechanisms, and Implications for Human Health. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, 47(2), 75-85. doi:https://doi.org/10.1249/JES.0000000000000183
  • Matsumoto, M., Inoue, R., Tsukahara, T., Ushida, K., Chiji, H., Matsubara, N., & Hara, H. (2008). Voluntary running exercise alters microbiota composition and increases n-butyrate concentration in the rat cecum. Bioscience, biotechnology, and biochemistry, 72(2), 572-576. doi:https://doi.org/10.1271/bbb.70474

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