Keeping your body moving and staying active has huge overall health benefits, and, as it turns out, can be good for your gut health too.
While it might not seem particularly stomach-friendly to crack out five burpees or lift heavy weights, exercise is actually very effective at stimulating the digestive system and can keep uncomfortable symptoms like bloating and constipation at bay.
Physical activity helps with peristalsis - a process that helps food move through the digestive tract. When we exercise, it increases blood flow to the muscles in the digestive system and ‘massages’ food along.
Some studies also show that exercising can be beneficial for the gut microbiome. According to postdoctoral researcher at the University of Utah, Taylor Valentino, PhD, exercising can initiate "important changes that help gut microbes to bloom and convert, and, coinciding with that, we get molecules our bodies can utilise".
Highlighting the connection between gut health and exercise is health performance coach David Birtwistle, who has partnered with probiotic beverage brand Yakult to encourage people to take care of their gut and wellbeing.
According to Birtwistle, there are three main things you should do to get the most out of your activity and ensure your gut health is well-maintained:
Always start your workout with a warm-up. These can be some gentle stretches, eventually working up to some more repetitive movements and lunges.
This will help to prepare you mentally and physically, and increase your heart rate and therefore your blood flow, to enable more oxygen to reach your muscles.
Muscle-strengthening exercises, which includes using weights of some form, whether that be your body weight or equipment, are important as they can help you maintain the ability to perform everyday tasks.
Exercise in any form can help the gut, while strengthening exercises may also reduce gut inflammation and slow down the rate of bone and muscle loss associated with ageing.
Whilst running may seem daunting, a simple walk, light jog, cycling or swimming all contribute towards cardio exercise. Cardio consists of moving quickly enough to raise your heart rate, breathing faster and feeling warm.
Exercises that you can incorporate into your routine include:
Cat-cow: Kneel on the floor on all fours with your hands shoulder-width apart and your knees directly below your hips. Inhale while curving your lower back and bringing your head up whilst tilting your pelvis towards the ground. Hold for 10-seconds and then exhale and bring your abdomen in, arching your spine and bringing your head down and pelvis up. Repeat several times.
Reach through: On your hands and knees, take the right hand and reach through between the left hand and knee. Drive the hand as far through as possible by rotating through the spine and dropping the shoulder to the floor. As you do this, you will feel a stretch through the mid and lower back. Hold for 3-5 seconds and then switch to the other side and repeat.
YTW: Laying on your front on the floor, extend your arms above your head, keeping your hands off the floor, such that when looking down from above, your body and arms would show the letter Y. From this position, keeping the arms straight at the elbow, move your arms out to the side to show a letter T. Finally bend at the elbow and pull the elbows down into the side to squeeze the lower traps and extend the thoracic spine into a W position. Extend overhead into the Y position and repeat five times.
Hip flexor lunges: Kneel down on the ground. Bring one leg up in front of you with your foot flush to the ground – your knee should remain bent at 90 degrees. Extend your back leg out ever so slightly so you can feel a stretch down the back of your extended leg.
Half-kneeling overhead presses with weights: Start in a kneeling position and bring your right leg out in front of you so that it is bent at a 90-degree position. On your left side, pick up a weight of your choice and ability, and lift above your head. Do these 4 to 8 times and then swap leg and arm position. Repeat the exercise 4 times.
3-point dumbbell row: Stand at the side of a flat area, like a bench, hinged over at the waist. Hold a weight in your left hand and place your right hand on the flat surface. Drive your left elbow towards the ceiling, pulling the weight up to the side of your rib cage. Do these 4 to 8 times and then swap arms. Repeat the exercise 4 times.
Burpees: Start standing and then move into a squat position with both hands flush to the ground. Kick your legs out so you’re in a plank position and then jump back into a squat. Finish off by bursting up into the air. Repeat this fairly quickly as many times as you can. You should expect to feel breathless doing this exercise.
Mountain climbers: Start in a plank position but with your pelvis slightly dipped towards the ground. Bring each leg up towards your body at alternative times, so that they cross over as you switch between the two.
Read more about gut health:
A kimchi a day keeps obesity at bay, study suggests (Yahoo Life UK, 7-min read)
The surprising way red wine can actually benefit your gut health (Yahoo Life UK, 4-min read)
How your gut health affects your mental health (Yahoo Life UK, 4-min read)