Gut Health: Does Exercise Change Your Microbiome? By Rachael Rigby, Lancaster University and Karen Wright, Lancaster University via Natural Blaze
The diverse, non-human life forms that live in our guts – known as our microbiome – are crucial to our health. A disrupted balance of these contribute to a range of disorders and diseases, including obesity, diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease. It could even affect our mental health.
It’s well known that the microbes living in our guts are altered through diet. For example, including dietary fibre and dairy products in our diets encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria. But mounting evidence suggests that exercise can also modify the types of bacteria that reside within our guts.
One study found exercise promotes the growth of bacteria which produce the fatty acid, butyrate. Butyrate can promote repair of the gut lining and reduce inflammation, therefore potentially preventing diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease and insulin resistance, which leads to diabetes. Exercise-induced shifts in the gut microbiota can also guard against obesity and improve metabolic function.
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Microbiome changes can even be seen following quite modest exercise regimes. One study found that women who performed at least three hours of light exercise – such as a brisk walk or swim – per week had increased levels of Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, Roseburia hominis, and Akkermansia muciniphila compared with sedentary individuals.
F. prausitzii and R. hominis reduce inflammation, while A. muciniphila has been associated with a lean body mass index (BMI) and improved metabolic health. This means that these microbiome changes are likely to be beneficial to overall health.
But it appears that the type of exercise also has different effects on the changes seen in the gut microbiota. Studies of rodents found that being forced to run on a wheel induced different microbiota changes compared to moderate exercise done when the mouse wanted to. There’s some evidence that the same is true in humans.
Athletes also have very different microbiota profiles compared to sedentary people of similar age and sex. Athletes had more diverse microflora, and a higher abundance of the three bacterial species mentioned above.