Exercise and movement in general is essential for optimal gut function. Evolutionarily, digestion and movement have always been an inseparable duo. Back in the days when you couldn’t find everything you needed at the local grocer, you would actually have to get your butt moving to hunt and gather your food.
Its no surprise then that movement seems to have a priming effect on digestion, because when our ancestors moved they were typically finding food. Movement increase motility and also boosts digestive capacity. In particular, movement seems to drastically increase bile flow which is crucial for fat digestion, motility and bacterial control.
Movement is also incredibly nourishing to the microbiome. Movement has been show to increase diversity, increase good bugs, decrease bad bugs, increase anti-inflammatory compounds and decrease inflammatory compounds. Overall, your bugs love it when you keep moving. If you are interested in learning more–I would highly recommend Lucy Mailing’s blog post series on exercise.
But, I also believe it is important to recognize that while being a couch potato is not great, too much exercise can actually hinder gut repair.
Typically the clients that I have who need to be careful of overdoing it are runners, bikers and crossfitters. It is not limited to just these activities, but I find that high intensity and endurance sports tend to be problematic for gut healing. But, it can also be crushing as these activities bring my clients joy. Have you ever told an avid runner they need to cut back on their mileage? It is tough!!
Why are endurance and high intensity sports more problematic? These activities typically cause hypoxia in the gut tissue, which is basically a fancy way of saying that they shunt oxygen away from the gut to the limbs that stressed during exercise. The longer the gut is oxygen deficient and the more damage it can have to the gut lining.
Another reason these activities are problematic is that they raise the body temperature. The gut does not like the increase in temperature. Drinking cold water has been shown to help attenuate any damage from temperature change though.
It seems like athletes can adapt to the gut changes that happen with intense exercise. However, if you already have gut symptoms and gut dysfunction your gut is probably not going to be able to adapt. You will need to address the gut dysfunction before you can ramp up exercise intensity again.
The bottom line is that probably getting 30 minutes of movement daily is optimal for gut function. If you are struggling with gut dysfunction, you may want to take a break from high intensity exercise until you resolve the dysfunction.
If you want to hear a more nuanced and detail discussion about exercise and gut function, please check out a recent episode of the IBS freedom podcast. You can watch via youtube below or listen via Spotify or other podcasting app!
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