Get better gut health at the gym

If you’ve been hearing a lot about your microbiome nowadays, it’s because it’s so critical to good health…

In case you’re still not sure exactly what this health buzzword means, your microbiome is a group of organisms — bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses — that live in your body.

Most of these organisms live in your gut, and they play a huge role in whether you get sick or stay healthy. The gut bacteria in your microbiome, for example, protect you from disease-causing bacteria, aid your digestion, keep your immune system strong and create vitamins like vitamins B12, thiamine, riboflavin and vitamin K2. They can also affect your weight loss and how you age.

Now, typically, when you get tips for keeping your microbiome healthy, they’re related to what you’re putting in your body. You’ve probably been told to take probiotics, eat more fermented foods, take fewer antibiotics, eat plenty of fiber and so on.

But research shows there’s another daily choice that could make or break your microbiome… how much you exercise.

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Your microbiome wants you to move more

Researchers from the University of Illinois recently performed two studies to see how exercise affects the microbes in your gut…

In the first study, they transplanted fecal material from mice who exercised and mice who didn’t exercise into the colons of sedentary mice without any existing microbes in their guts. Since the guts of these mice were clean slates, any changes they experienced could be traced to getting bacteria from exercising or non-exercising mice. And boy did they experience changes…

Mice who received fecal material from exercising mice got the gift that keeps on giving — a healthy gut microbiome. Researchers found that these mice had more microbes that produce a short-chain fatty acid called butyrate. Butyrate is known as a bearer of good gut health because it boosts the health of intestinal cells, lowers inflammation and creates energy for its host.

But that’s not all…

Mice who received fecal material from exercising mice were also more resilient to a chemical that causes the inflammatory bowel disease ulcerative colitis. When they were exposed to this chemical, their guts squelched the inflammation it causes and pumped out more regenerative molecules that sped up recovery.

What else did researchers learn about exercise’s impact on your microbiome?

Well, in the second study they performed, researchers sampled the gut microbiomes of 18 thin and 14 obese sedentary adults. Then they started them on an exercise routine that included 30-60 minutes of cardio three times per week for six weeks. At the end of six weeks, they sampled their gut microbiomes again. Then they let them stay sedentary for another six weeks and sampled their gut microbiomes one last time.

What did all this microbiome sampling uncover?

It showed that exercising had a similar effect on human microbiomes as it did on mice microbiomes. The samples taken after six weeks of exercise were higher in that beneficial short-chain fatty acid butyrate again. But butyrate levels went down after participants stopped exercising.

Researchers also noticed that butyrate levels increased more dramatically in thin people who started exercising than obese people who started exercising. So if you’re holding some extra weight, gut health may be a bit of an uphill battle for you. But nothing insurmountable. Exercise still gives you more cell-healing, inflammation-fighting butyrate no matter what your weight!

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Better gut health in just six weeks

There are a million worthwhile reasons to exercise regularly. But if you’re still struggling to break free from your sedentary ways, gut health may be the benefit that finally seals the deal.

After all, a healthy gut makes you feel better in your daily life, but it also helps protect you from serious diseases like Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, multiple sclerosis and cancer.

And this study proves that good gut health doesn’t have to be complicated. It only takes a few days of exercise per week to trigger positive changes in your gut.

Even better, exercise makes a big difference fast… just six weeks! Think about it… less than two months from now, you could have far better gut health just for breaking a sweat a few times a week. But remember, if you stop, the benefits reverse just as quickly.

So start a sustainable exercise routine — one you enjoy — and commit to doing it at least three times per week. If you do, your microbiome will be happier and healthier… and so will you!

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  1. Exercise changes gut microbial composition independent of diet, team reports — MedicalXpress. Retrieved December 5, 2017.
  2. M. Allen, et al. “Exercise Alters Gut Microbiota Composition and Function in Lean and Obese Humans.” — Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 2017. DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001495.
  3. M. Allen, et al. “Exercise training-induced modification of the gut microbiota persists after microbiota colonization and attenuates the response to chemically-induced colitis in gnotobiotic mice.” — Gut Microbes, 2017. DOI: 10.1080/19490976.2017.1372077.
  4. Fast Facts About the Human Microbiome — The Center for Ecogenetics and Environmental Health, University of Washington. Retrieved December 5, 2017.
  5. J. Zhang, et al. “Impacts of Gut Bacteria on Human Health and Diseases.” — International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2015 Apr; 16(4): 7493–7519. doi: 10.3390/ijms16047493.
  6. Gut microbes could help trigger multiple sclerosisScience. Retrieved December 5, 2017.
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine,, and