It’s unlikely this is the first time you’re reading about the “good” gut bacteria; it’s probably been the hottest topic in health and medicine over the past few years. Why? More and more studies are linking so much of our health and so many diseases to the condition of our microbiome (our gut environment). So the healthier the bacteria that lives there, the healthier our bodies may be as a whole.
That “bad” bacteria, for example has been linked to many diseases and health conditions, everything from Parkinson’s to obesity and so much more (we’ll cover some of this later). Now, another study suggests exercise may actually alter the microbiota in our gut…and for the better.
What Is the Gut Microbiota?
Our intestinal tract is an environment in which an entire colony of bacteria, good and bad, resides. The colony of gut bacteria is our gut microbiota (or flora). While we might consider our intestines our body’s wasteland, the truth is, much of our immune system is actually housed in our gut. What does this mean exactly? The system that keeps our whole body healthy relies on a healthy gut microbiota. In other words, if the gut’s not happy, ain’t no body part happy. So it’s important to keep our microbiome healthy.
A proper diet is one big key to keeping the gut microbiota healthy. Good gut bacteria thrive on nutrient-rich foods; bad gut bacteria thrive on junk foods. However, there may be another big key to keeping the gut healthy: exercise…
How Exercise Affects Gut Bacteria
One study looked at the affect of aerobic exercise, such as running, on the gut microbiota. Thirty-two sedentary or inactive participants (18 lean, 14 obese) began an exercise program three days a week. Intensity levels and time increased throughout the six-week study period. The participants then returned to their sedentary lifestyles. What did they find? The good bacteria in the gut of the lean participants produced an increased amount of short-chain fatty acids over the six-week period. Interestingly, these same benefits weren’t realized to the same extent, however, in the obese participants (though some gut improvements were found in this group).
It’s important to note, however, that the effects weren’t permanent. Meaning, that in order to appreciate the benefits long term, you have to keep exercising. After the participants returned to their sedentary lifestyles, the gut returned to its pre-study condition.
The Problems with Bad Gut Bacteria
Our feature study today examined the effect of exercise on the gut independently of diet. Exercise alone did seem to lead to positive changes, but combining diet and exercise may provide an even bigger benefit to the gut by keeping our good bacteria healthy and thriving. So what happens when the opposite is true? What happens when the bad bacteria dominate our gut? Take a look:
- Bad gut bacteria may increase the risk of type-2 diabetes.
- The bacterial environment in the gut may be a risk factor for Parkinson’s disease.
- Interactions between an an unhealthy gut and the brain may negatively impact the processing of emotions.
- The health of our stem cells may by affected by the condition of our gut microbiota.
A healthy heart and weight control are perhaps the most well-known benefits of exercise, but it seems the benefits are so much farther reaching. The best way to appreciate all that exercise has to offer is to just get out there and start doing it!