Exercise can help your gut bacteria thrive!

The human digestive system has become increasingly important in our understanding of chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, inflammatory diseases and even cancer.  Our gut flora plays a critical role in digesting carbohydrates, preventing harmful bacteria from colonizing our gut, helping the immune system, and even affecting our metabolism.  As we find new drugs to help the digestive tract, we forget that one of the easiest solutions is exercise.
The researchers at the University College of Cork conducted a study looked at the effects of exercise and diet on gut bacteria diversity.  They recruited forty rugby players (mean age 29.1 +/- 2.9) and two groups healthy men for control. One group had BMI≤25 (n=23) and the other group had BMI>28 (n=23). The researchers collected stool and blood samples from all participants. The participants also completed detailed questionnaires about their exercise, diet and spoke with a nutritionist.
The results were quite interesting. The rugby players had a far greater gut diversity when compared to controls with the highest weight. Surprising, the highly active rugby players also showed lower levels of inflammation markers than the sedentary control groups. They also had higher levels of Akkermansiaceae, a bacteria linked with lower risk for systemic inflammation and obesity.  When comparing dietary patterns, the rugby players had a much higher intake of protein as compared to controls. The rugby players averaged 22% of their total energy intake from protein versus 15-16% in the controls.
This is a small study but it opens the door to realizing how a simple thing such as exercise has such far reaching benefits on inflammation and overall gut bacteria diversity. Although more research is needed and lots of new studies are underway, the take home point is to get your daily exercise. Remember, 30 minutes (minimum) of exercise per day could very well keep the doctor away.


Clarke S, Murphy E, O’Sullivan O. et al. Exercise and associated dietary extremes impact on gut microbial diversity. Gut gutjnl-2013-306541Published Online First: 9 June 2014.

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Sean Hashmi MD
Articles: 56

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