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The Power of Movement: How Exercise Can Promote a Healthy Gut

This article was written by Sam Rooney, Exercise Physiologist


When it comes to health and wellbeing, gut health is an emerging aspect of health that continues to evolve. You may have heard of the term “gut-brain connection” and in some circles you’ll even hear the gut being referred to as “the second brain”. This is because the gut is filled with a vast network of neurons and neurotransmitters – the same type found in our central nervous system. They play a key role in diseases within the body and even our mental health.

When considering the gut, typically diet and nutrition is what comes to mind as to how we make sure our gut health flourishes. While yes, this is a key aspect that cannot be overlooked, there is also a strong link between regular physical activity and a thriving gut.


How does exercise support gut health?

Exercise has been shown to support gut health in multiple ways, including:

  • Increasing the number of microbial species;
  • Enriching the microflora diversity;
  • Increasing levels of short-chain fatty acids; and
  • Improving the development of commensal bacteria.
In other words, exercise: 
  • Increases the total number of good bacteria in our gut;
  • Helps support a more diverse range of good bacteria;
  • Reduces inflammation and regulates blood sugar levels; and 
  • Supports our immune system.


How to Exercise to Support Your Gut

1. Cardiovascular Exercise

Currently, most research has focused on cardiovascular exercise – exercise that has the primary goal of increasing your heart rate as opposed to strength training. While strength training may well help boost your gut health, there is currently less research to back this up. However, when looking at overall wellbeing, it is still important to include muscle strengthening activities at least two days per week.

More specifically, it has been suggested that moderate to vigorous cardiovascular 3 times per week for 30-60 minutes may be most effective in boosting your gut health. 

  • Moderate intensity: approximately 60% of your maximum heart rate, where you can talk comfortable.
  • Vigorous intensity: around 75% of your maximum heart rate, where you experience increased breathing, breaking into a sweat, and can only speak in short sentences.

2. Consistency 

This one may be quite obvious. When it comes to your health and wellbeing, consistency is the key to everything. One salad won’t make you healthy and one burger won’t make you unhealthy. Likewise, it’s the consistency of exercise that will influence your gut health.

A lot can go into exercising consistently, but in my experience the following will assist in finding a routine that sticks:

  • Do exercise that you enjoy. As long as it is achieving the desired outcome (e.g. increased heart rate) then don’t sweat the small stuff. Run, cycle, chase the dog. Whatever gets you moving!
  • Set small goals. If you haven’t been physically active in years, it’s unlikely that immediately exercising five times per week will be sustainable or enjoyable. Start with one day and gradually increase.
  • Set a routine that works. For me, I love taking the dog for a walk in the morning. I get some early sun and it gets me up for the day. You may have responsibilities that mean you can’t exercise until later in the day, which is also fine. There is no right or wrong when it comes to exercise timing – on a side note, exercise outdoors can potentially assist in improving gut health too!


Finally, there is also growing evidence to suggest that good gut health can improve both your motivation to exercise and your exercise performance itself – so it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more you exercise, the healthier your gut… and the healthier gut, the easier it is to exercise (win, win if you ask me). 


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