Exercise is an important part of our everyday efforts to be healthy, but should we do exercise for gut health?
This blog will talk you through the importance and benefits of exercise for gut health, as well as how much exercise we should be doing.
Table of Contents
HOW MUCH EXERCISE SHOULD WE BE DOING?
The general guidelines from the NHS recommend that adults aged between 19-64 carry out approximately 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week and 2 days of strength exercises (1).
Research has shown that an increase in moderate exercise (30-60 minutes/day) can improve IBS symptoms, as well as fatigue, depression, and anxiety (2).
WHAT COUNTS AS EXERCISE?
There are three ways to tell if you are performing moderate exercise (3):
- Your breathing will be quicker but you will not be out of breath
- You will develop a light amount of sweat at around 10 minutes of activity
- You can carry on a conversation but are unable to sing
Some examples include walking briskly, playing doubles tennis and basketball. Even activities such as mowing the lawn or cleaning your house can count as moderate exercise!
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF EXERCISE?
Exercise can reduce the risk of several diseases and health conditions such as (4):
- Type 2 diabetes
- Cardiovascular disease
- certain cancers
Exercise can also be beneficial for your mental health by reducing stress. This is important for IBS as a reduction in stress is seen to help improve IBS symptoms. Click here to read more about stress and IBS.
DOES EXERCISE IMPROVE GUT HEALTH?
Research suggests that an increase in exercise increases the variety of gut microbiota which can help improve immunity (5,6). Lower gut bacteria diversity is found in people with conditions such as IBS, type 2 diabetes, and coeliac disease (6).
One type of exercise that can be beneficial for IBS and gut health is yoga. Click here to read more about yoga for IBS.
HOW DOES EXERCISE IMPROVE GUT HEALTH?
Different levels of exercise have different impacts on gut health due to different impacts on the body. Low-intensity exercise reduces the time it takes for stool to pass, so there is more contact and interaction time between it and the lining of the intestines (7).
IS EXERCISE BAD FOR GUT HEALTH?
High-intensity exercise can trigger IBS symptoms due to increased stress on the body. However, if you already do high-intensity workouts and they suit you, you do not need to exclude them. Be mindful about what works for you and how your body feels.
EXERCISE FOR GUT HEALTH TIPS
Sometimes, it can be hard to motivate yourself to exercise. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Be consistent – To be able to see an improvement in your gut health from exercise, you need to be consistent! You will not see changes overnight.
- Start small – Start with gentle activities such as walking or yoga. If you are new to exercising, you need your body to adjust and you need to enjoy what exercise you are doing!
- Stay hydrated – If you are exercising and sweating often, your body will need to keep hydrated to prevent dehydration. Dehydration can lead to constipation.
Exercise is beneficial for gut health as it improves the variety and diversity of gut microbiota. However, the specific type of exercise and amount that will have an impact is unknown.
It is important to start small and to be consistent to see a difference in your gut health. However, high-intensity exercise can be a trigger for gut health conditions such as IBS. It is important to do what is best for you and to enjoy the exercise you do!
Generally, for overall well-being, it is recommended to do 75-150 minutes of exercise per week to improve other aspects of your health.
Updated by Maiya Bahra Student Dietitian (2022), reviewed by Serena Bansal Registered Dietitian BSc Hons, and Kirsten Jackson Consultant Dietitian BSc Hons, RD, PG Cert
Kirsten Jackson is a UK registered Consultant Gastroenterology Dietitian and founder of The Food Treatment Clinic. She has undergone many qualifications to get where she is today, including a UK BSc Honours Degree in Dietetics and Post-Graduate Certificate in Advanced Dietetics. In addition to this, she has FODMAP Training from Kings College London University. Kirsten set up The Food Treatment Clinic in 2015 after first experiencing digestive problems herself. She felt that the NHS was unable to provide the support individuals needed and went on to specialise in this area before opening a bespoke IBS service. Kirsten also participates in charity work as an Expert Advisor for the IBS Network. In addition, she can be seen in publications such as Cosmopolitan and The Telegraph discussing IBS as an Official Media Spokesperson to the IBS Network.