Getting regular exercise is a cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle—second, perhaps, only to diet. It can help keep us fit in everything from our hearts and other muscles to our outlook on life and even at the gut level.
And we’re not just talking about how exercise can help to trim your gut, either. Exercise effects can go way down to the good bacteria in our guts, making them more diverse, which can support even more positive, long-term health implications.
Here’s why it matters so much: our gastrointestinal (GI) tracts, including the stomach and intestines, are home to something called our gut microbiota, which is a complex community of gut bacteria.
The gut microbiota doesn’t just sit there, either. It is highly involved in our metabolism and in the development of the immune system. In fact, it’s so integral that research has linked changes in our gut microbiota composition—particularly reduced diversity and variation—with GI unhealth, diabetes and obesity.
On the other hand, increased diversity of the microbiota is linked to positive responses in the metabolic profile as well as in immune system responses. In fact, a study that is the first to exclusively examine the link between exercise and its impact on gut microbiota was published in Gut and reported in a British Medical Journal (BMJ) news release.
Researchers studied the blood and fecal samples of 40 professional rugby players compared with those of 46 healthy men who weren’t athletes, but were about the same size and age—half of whom had a body mass index (BMI) in the normal range and half with a high BMI.
The results? The athletes had lower levels of inflammation, had a better metabolic profile than those with a higher BMI and had more diverse gut microbiota than those with a higher BMI.
In short, the researchers’ findings indicated that exercise can boost the diversity of healthy gut bacteria, but especially when combined with higher levels of dietary protein and protein supplements, which constituted 22 percent of the athletes’ diet—since they relied heavily on protein for energy—compared to 15 to 16 percent of the control groups' diet.
The athletes also ate more of all the food groups as well as more veggies and fruits and fewer snacks. The researchers concluded, "Our findings indicate that exercise is another important factor in the relationship between the microbiota host immunity and host metabolism, with diet playing an important role.”
Now we may be able to chalk up yet another benefit of exercise—gut health.