A whole world is residing inside your gut–the world made of a wide cluster of bacteria, fungi, and other microscopic organisms–working to support your digestion and overall health.
The gut microbiome starts in early life. Inside the womb, the fetus’ gastrointestinal tract is sterile because the uterine environment is sterile. During birth, the newborn is exposed to the maternal microflora and the external environment, which begin to colonize the gut, forming the initial gut microbiome. As the infant grows, the different internal and external factors they are exposed to affect the development and diversity of the bacteria inside the gut. And by 1 year old, the gut microbiome of the child begins to look like an adult’s.
The gut microbiome continues to vary as you grow and is affected by your genes, age, diet, lifestyle, life events (e.g., pregnancy, menopause, etc.), intake of antibiotics, and exposure to different environmental conditions.
Your gut microbiome is essential for the digestive process because it facilitates movement of food through peristalsis, strengthens the GI lining, and maintains homeostasis or balance in the GI tract. It also has a protective function through the immune system and affects metabolic health. A thriving gut microbiome is equivalent to a strong immune system and healthy metabolism.
But what characterizes a great microbiome?
The gut microbiome should be made up of hundreds of varying species. In fact, a diverse microbiota profile is linked to increase in vitamin and short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) production, dietary fiber metabolism, and disease protection.
If the composition of the gut microbiome is not diverse, homeostasis is lost. Dysbiosis occurs. The gut microbiome fails to function in favor of the host, you. And this causes digestive problems and the rest of the body is affected–immune function, metabolism, and even the brain.
Your gut microbiome is a reflection of you. Meaning, the microorganisms colonizing your gastrointestinal tract eat what you eat, get stressed when you do, and, as researchers found out, benefit when you exercise!
According to studies, exercise is connected to the increase in the number of beneficial bacteria and microbial diversity. Even little changes such as doing daily moderate exercises (than never) has an impact on the gut microbiome.
Several other studies support this finding. One of the major studies conducted in this matter involved elite rugby players, which demonstrated that exercises enriched the diversity of gut microflora.
This goes to show that it’s not only diet but also increased physical activity and exercises that affect the gut microbiome in positive ways.
But which type of exercise benefits the gut?
There are two types of exercise: strength and endurance.
Exercises that develop strength are high intensity such as weight lifting and boxing. They are also called anaerobic exercises because they don’t use oxygen to produce ATP or energy. They use glycogen stores instead.
On the other hand, exercises that develop endurance are lower intensity but are sustained over longer periods. Examples are walking, jogging, swimming, and biking. They are known to be aerobic exercises because oxygen is used to create energy to fuel this type of exercise. It’s otherwise known as cardio exercise because it keeps your heart rate up.
Between the two, it’s cardio that benefits your microbiota by increasing the beneficial bacteria and increasing its diversity.
If you are just starting with cardio, go gradually. Soon you will find yourself sustaining more. Also if you have existing medical conditions, consult your healthcare provider first for advice on the exercises that you can do.
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