Why Exercise Is Good for Gut Health

Exercise supports a healthy gut microbiome; and a healthy gut may support workout performance, too.

Inside our intestines is our gut microbiome, home to trillions of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microbes. Researchers say they are just beginning to understand all the ways our biodiverse guts impact our health. So far evidence suggests the microorganisms in our gut, when diverse and healthy, can aid digestion, regulate our immune system, help protect against certain diseases, and boost mood.

Plenty of data suggests exercise is part of the equation, too.

There’s a lot going on when we exercise — we allow more oxygen to reach our brain and bloodstream, our core body temperature heats up, and there’s a redistribution of our blood flow. Researchers suspect these conditions are great for the bacteria in our microbiomes to flourish, though the exact mechanisms are still unknown, says Taylor Valentino, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, where he studies the relationship between muscle development and the microbiome.

“Exercising causes important changes that help gut microbes to bloom and convert, and, coinciding with that, we get molecules our bodies can utilize,” Dr. Valentino says.

That means a regular exercise routine may help support a healthy gut ⎯ and still more research suggests that a healthier gut may be linked to improved performance, too.

In a nutshell, most bacteria in our gut have a symbiotic relationship with our bodies, meaning they support body function and our bodies support the health and growth of these microorganisms. They produce vitamins, fatty acids, and amino acids that are used for things like immune functioning, digestion, mood regulation, and more.

Regular exercise accelerates the process, increasing the different kinds of microbial species in the gut, and encouraging bacteria to flourish, says Jacob Allen, PhD, an assistant professor of exercise physiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.