No, it’s not eating better (although it doesn’t hurt).
Gut health has become a hot topic in recent years. Usually any conversation about this involves probiotics.
It’s not that probiotics — or diet in general — aren’t essential for proper gut function. But a Cleveland Clinic gastroenterologist says people have to move to get things moving in their gastrointestinal tract.
“Exercise improves circulation and promotes muscle strength and growth,” says dr. Christine Lee, MD, a gastroenterologist at the Cleveland Clinic.
Dr. Lee says exercise helps increase motility, or the stretching and contraction of muscles located in the gastrointestinal tract. This movement ensures that food can be absorbed by the body and move through the digestive tract. Then the body can eliminate what is not used effectively, thus avoiding discomforts such as bloating.
“Exercise has the biggest impact on digestion,” says Dr. Lee.
But what type of exercise is best for gut health and how much do you need? Dr. Lee breaks it down and explains why you shouldn’t ignore the diet either.
Why should I care about gut health?
First of all, why should you care about gut health, anyway? It can feel like we are constantly being told to care about a specific organ or system – cardiovascular/heart, brain and the list goes on. Being advised to do one more thing for another body part can feel overwhelming. But it is important.
“[The gut] is the engine of our body,” says Dr. Lee. “Some people may want to focus on the bonnet…but really it comes down to the engine. You want to have a well-oiled engine that runs well, efficiently and reliably.”
Plus, no part of the body works in a vacuum – taking a holistic approach is essential.
“Gut health is critical to overall health. It affects how you feel, think, and run,” says Dr. Lee. “Your ability to digest food and absorb nutrients will affect your bone health, heart health, circulation, brain health, and your ability to focus and stay focused.”
Related: This Is The Number One Habit Destroying Your Gut Health, According To An Integrative Medicine Doctor
The Importance of Exercise for Gut Health
Lee kept the car and motor references when explaining why she recommends increased movement as the first line of defense in maintaining good or bad gut health. Yes, before even discussing eating habits.
“When people focus on food to eat, it’s like focusing on the highest quality gasoline in your car,” says Dr. Lee. “If your engine stinks, even the best, highest-grade gasoline won’t run that car. They’re two separate entities. You can’t make up for a terrible engine with top-grade gasoline.”
The intestinal tract acts like our body’s plumbing system, but it is made up of muscles.
“You need muscle for strength and movement,” says Dr. Lee. “You need something to digest food. If you don’t have the intestinal tract to digest food and break it down, you won’t get what you pay for…Exercise keeps your intestinal tract strong and healthy. muscular and on the move.”
Related: These Simple, Equipment-Free Exercises Will Give You the Same Benefits of Running
Focus on core workouts for gut health
The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week, or an average of 30 minutes per day five times per week. Alternatively, individuals can opt for 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week, or 15 minutes per day, five times per week.
Dr. Lee says it’s a good start, especially for cardio. But she insists people shouldn’t skimp on resistance training, especially in the core zone. “We don’t have an intestinal tract in our quadriceps or calf muscles,” says Dr. Lee.
Lee says Pilates gives people the building blocks they need for a good core.
“He uses resistance training, whether it’s TRX, rubber bands, or weights,” says Dr. Lee.
What about crackles? It depends on the individual. Lee notes that they may not be the best for people with lumbar or cervical spine issues or those who are pregnant or have just given birth.
Lee recommends speaking with a specialist, such as a personal trainer who has experience with people with spinal issues or who are pregnant or postpartum. They can help you tailor a core workout to your needs.
Related: Here’s Why You’ll Want To Add The Reverse Crunch To Your Workout Routine And How To Make It Easier
Discover Hidden Core Workouts for a Healthy Gut
Dr. Lee understands: people are busy and spending 30-40 minutes working on the heart can be a challenge. But you may have hidden opportunities to get basic workouts.
“Keep moving,” says Dr. Lee. “Park further away on purpose. Try not to outsource housework or yard work.”
Chores like raking, mulching, pulling weeds, and vacuuming can all engage the core—seriously. “Maintain a straight back,” says Dr. Lee. “You’ll get some basic exercises out of it, but you just won’t realize it.”
Bonus points for pulling the belly button toward the spine to engage the core when crossing items off your to-do list.
Related: Need More Motivation to Exercise? Here are 6 mental benefits
Yes, diet is still important for gut health
Speaking of to-do lists, can you worry about your diet outside of that? Dr. Lee does not recommend it. As important as exercise is, diet is another vital component to gut health.
“If you have a well-oiled machine and a good engine, but you don’t put good quality gasoline in it, it won’t break down. [right away]says Dr. Lee. “But over time, the engine may not last as long.
Mixing it up is the key to a healthy, balanced diet. “The more variety you introduce, the more variety of vitamins you will have available to feed your body,” says Lee.
Consider incorporating multiple colors into your menu, such as:
As with any food, there are too many good things, even with fruits and vegetables. Lee says leaning too hard on an item can cause vitamin deficiencies, which can affect gut health either directly (bloating) or indirectly (muscle or bone problems that prevent you from exercising).
Related: Food Experts Swear By Better Gut Health
What are the signs of poor gut health?
Lee says common symptoms of poor gut health include:
“These are signs that waste is building up, and you might need help, whether it’s exercising to improve blood flow and muscle contraction for better motility or to improve the foods you eat so you can feed the vitamins and get rid of the higher quality foods,” says Lee.
You can speak with a primary care physician or a gastroenterologist. Lee says they can help rule out any other issues contributing to your symptoms. If and when they do, they’ll likely make the same recommendations as Lee — exercise and diet — to improve your gut health. Additionally, they may temporarily recommend the use of a laxative powder like Miralax.
“Usually if you have gas or constipation, you may not be emptying your colon. [efficiently]”, says Lee. “As it accumulates, people get tired, tired and cramped.
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