gut health and exercise

Gut health & exercise

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, there’s a very strong chance you’ve seen adverts for yogurt style drinks which claim to do wonderful things for your gut health. But what is gut health and how can it affect you on a day-to-day basis – and how you exercise?

Back in ancient Greece, for physicians and philosophers, ‘humours’ (chemical elements regulating human behaviour) were the buzzwords of the times – Hippocrates applied this idea to medicine; blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. He put forward that an extreme deficit or excess of any of the humours could be a sign of illness. Fast forward to today, and Western medicine has finally realised that our intestines are our guts’ microbiome, and home to trillions of microorganisms including bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microbes.

All the evidence suggests that if you have a healthy and diverse range of microorganisms in your gut, they can aid digestion, regulate our immune system, help protect against certain diseases and help boost your mood. There’s also data to suggest that exercise is a factor too.

When we exercise we allow more oxygen to reach our brain and bloodstream, our core body temperature increases and there’s a redistribution of our blood flow.  This is thought to provide perfect conditions for the bacteria in our microbiomes to thrive. In short, regular exercise may help promote a healthy gut, and possibly even improve performance.

Research is still in the early stages, but here are five ways to help make your gut a microbiome paradise:

  1. Cardio – at the moment the research into improved gut health and exercise has concentrated on aerobic exercise and less on resistance training. So while doing bench presses and deadlifts et al are good in many ways, there isn’t scientific research yet, to show whether this is going to benefit your gut-health. Plus, we all love a bit of cardio….don’t we…?
  2. Be consistent – to help sustain the growth of good microbes, exercise needs to be a regular part of your lifestyle. If you feel your exercise mojo starting to fail, sign up to one of our classes or cajole a friend into going running with you.
  3. Be realistic – if your exercise programme doesn’t include much cardio at the moment, don’t suddenly run a half-marathon or take on Widcome Hill. Build up slowly to avoid injuries and to help make it enjoyable – so that it becomes a fixture in your weekly regime.
  4. Go outside – with the weather starting to improve (we hope), now is the time to grab your walking boots and go for a tramp. Being outdoors and in nature increases our exposure to varied ecosystems, and their bacteria. A Finnish study found that kindergarten children who played outside in the woods most days had a richer, more diverse gut microbiome and a less inflammatory immune system than their peers who were in an urban nursery with limited outdoor time.
  5. Nutrition – you are what you eat. The gut microbiome loves fermented and plant-based foods so making sure you have some of the following will help add natural probiotics into your diet:

– natural yoghurt
– kefir
– kombucha
– miso
– sauerkraut
– kimchi

Vegetables, nuts, seeds and fruit will also have a positive impact on your gut. Eat the colours of the rainbow in vegetable/plant format to help boost your gut health and boost your mood.


YMCA Health & Wellbeing Trainer