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The magic of movement: 3 ways exercise boosts your gut health and immune system

While many of us are motivated by the visible physical changes we see from regular exercise, we sometimes underestimate just how important exercise is for our insides! Read on for an insight into what happens within your gut when you move your body.

1. Movement improves gut motility and digestion

Moving your body encourages movement in your gut too. Regular physical exercise stimulates the muscles in your gut and helps to move food along. Light exercise can push the blood to circulate through your stomach. This movement can get the bowels moving for many people.1https://www.healthline.com/health/lazy-bowel#causes2https://www.24life.com/gentle-movements-to-improve-your-gut-health/

Low-intensity exercises like walking, swimming, slow cycles, and easy hikes, have been shown to speed up elimination times.3https://begoodtoyourgut.co.uk/movement-and-gut-health/ So any kind of movement can be a simple step towards relieving bloating or constipation. Regular exercise can essentially keep your digestive system turned “on”.4https://www.healthline.com/health/lazy-bowel#causes

Exercise also helps to regulate gut motility. Gut Motility describes the contraction and relaxation of the intestinal muscles. Optimal gut motility means that food is mixed and moved efficiently, nutrients are better absorbed, and digestive issues like bloating are avoided.

2. Movement promotes beneficial bacteria

Regular exercise improves the functioning of gut microbiota, encourages beneficial bacteria to flourish, and promotes microbial diversity (the range of bacterial species in the gut).5https://www.everydayhealth.com/fitness/can-exercise-boost-my-gut-health/6https://naturopathy.ie/news/2022/04/25/how-to-heal-your-gut/ Starting a regular exercise regime has been shown to increase levels of short-chain fatty acids (such as butyrate) as well as the gut bacteria that produce them (like Lactobacillus and Roseburia). These substances are key to reducing inflammation and repairing the gut lining. They also help regulate blood sugar levels, boost the immune system, lower cholesterol, and reduce digestive issues like diarrhoea and IBS.7https://www.everydayhealth.com/fitness/can-exercise-boost-my-gut-health/8https://naturopathy.ie/news/2022/04/25/how-to-heal-your-gut/

People who exercise at higher levels have been found to have higher levels of Akkermansia9https://www.everydayhealth.com/fitness/can-exercise-boost-my-gut-health/, which may contribute to maintaining gut barrier integrity, improving metabolic health, and exerting anti-inflammatory effects.

As with any area of gut health, consistency is key! If you stop exercising, you may lose the beneficial effects it had on your gut and overall health. One study showed that after just 6 weeks of introducing an exercise regime, participants’ gut microbiomes improved. However, after stopping this exercise regime, their gut microbiome reverted back within 6 weeks again.10https://www.everydayhealth.com/fitness/can-exercise-boost-my-gut-health/ So you really get what you put in!

3. Movement supports the lymphatic system

The lymphatic system is also a key area of gut health that is impacted by movement. Did you know that approximately 70% of your immune system is located in your gut as lymphoid tissue? This lymph tissue is where we find your immune cells like lymphocytes, macrophages, and leucocytes.11https://naturopathy.ie/news/2021/09/09/how-to-boost-your-immune-system-naturally/

The lymphatic system is stimulated by muscle movement and getting your heart rate up. Physical movement stimulates lymph flow, which is important for removing toxins, waste, and excess fluid from tissues. Think of contracting your muscles as a pump to push these fluids around your body! This ‘pump’ helps your antibodies and immune cells to move more efficiently around your body to identify and remove harmful bacteria, viruses and invaders.12http://www.thehealthcoach.com/blog/winter-wellness-avoid-getting-sick/ Without this ‘pump’, lymphatic circulation can become sluggish which can lead to inflammation and have a negative impact on your immune system.

What type of movement?

The good news is, there’s no one magic movement you need to focus on! Any kind of exercise or physical movement can benefit your gut health, lymphatic system, and immune system. So do what you enjoy, do what your body is craving, do what you can! Here are some examples of movement types you can incorporate:

  • walking
  • yoga
  • swimming
  • pilates
  • abdominal exercises
  • running
  • dancing
  • cycling
  • high-intensity interval training (HIIT) training
  • parking further from the office or shops
  • lymphatic drainage massage or just a full body massage. You read that right! A massage can help stimulate lymph flow, increase blood flow, aid digestion, and assist in the removal of toxins and waste. Take this as your sign to go treat yourself to a massage 😉
  • exercise-induced sweating is also a great way to help detoxify your body.13https://cnmhealth.com/simple-and-effective-ways-to-detoxify-the-body/

For more information on the benefits of exercise for your gut health, check out our articles Why You Should Exercise Outside this Summer and The Gut-Fitness Connection.

Questions? Contact one of our Nutritional Therapists via live chat from 8 am to 8 pm on weekdays for bespoke advice on gut wellness.


Questions? Talk to a Nutritional Therapist on live chat!

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