Walking, jogging, running, swimming, dancing, weight lifting… There are so many ways to get your body moving and so many reasons to prioritize physical activity. Diet culture tends to quantify exercise regimens in calories burned and muscles toned, but the benefits of exercise go far beyond what is visible. Let’s take a closer look at the less obvious reasons to make your routine.
Exercise Can Help Keep You Regular
Excuse us for jumping straight into the toilet talk, but did you know that exercise can help with healthy bowel movements? Staying active has been shown to help with constipation by reducing the time it takes food to move through the large intestine. A study among women with chronic constipation found that physical activity actually improved conditions within 12 weeks ( Tantawy, Sayed A, et al., 2017 ). Simple movements like walking, yoga, stretching, or deep breathing are all recommended to keep the digestive tract healthy.
Exercise and the Gut Microbiome
Could exercise change the balance of healthy and unhealthy bacteria in the gut? According to Dr. Brooke Scheller, people who exercise regularly tend to have increased bacterial diversity, and more health-promoting bugs that produce important metabolites (also known as “postbiotics”) for gut health. And there’s actually some research to back this up! One study suggests exercise can improve commensal bacteria development and enrich the microflora diversity, both of which are beneficial for the host’s health ( Monda, Vincenzo, et al., 2017 ).
Exercise and Leaky Gut
“Exercise can also help improve the health of the gut lining and protect against leaky gut syndrome,” says Dr. Brooke. “ Leaky gut syndrome” refers to a digestive condition in which bacteria and toxins pass through the intestinal wall. Some of the symptoms of leaky gut syndrome include food sensitivities, allergies, decreased immune function, and even autoimmune disorders.
Exercise and Inflammation
Moderate exercise has also been shown to reduce inflammation throughout the body, which is likely due to improved microbial balance and improved function of the gastrointestinal lining. One study found that something as simple as a 20-minute exercise can stimulate the immune system and produce an anti-inflammatory cellular response. The low-grade type of inflammation contributes to stress on our cardiovascular system and joints and causes headaches, migraines, and more.
Regular exercise provides a bounty of mental health benefits. Research shows that exercises can reduce anxiety, depression, and negative mood by improving self-esteem and cognitive function ( Sharma, Ashish, et al., 2006 ). Scientists even note that thirty minutes of exercise, three days a week, is enough to notice these types of benefits. Studies also show that physical activity can also help with sleep by stabilizing mood and decompressing the mind.
“If you’re looking for an extra boost for your exercise routine, probiotics are a bonus” adds Dr. Brooke. A study among athletes actually found that beneficial microbes, including probiotics, can enhance performance and exercise capacity ( Marttinen, Maija, et al., 2020 ).