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Here’s How Exercise Can Help Your Entire Body – Not Just Your Muscles

Science says you should lace up your sneakers for your microbiome.

You already know that exercise is good for you for a whole host of reasons. It can help keep your weight in check and strengthen your heart and muscles. Now, there’s one more body benefit that you can add to the list: a growing body of research shows that physical activity may improve your gut microbiome and immune health. 



There are trillions of bacteria and other tiny organisms living inside your body and on top of your skin. Many of them—including more than 1,000 different types of bacteria—reside in your intestines. This collection of microorganisms is called your gut microbiome.

Your microbiome plays a major role in your well-being. Research shows that it can influence everything from your immune system to your cardiovascular health. It helps your body digest food and unlock nutrients, and helps your immune system function properly. A healthy gut microbiome may help protect you from a variety of diseases.

One sign of a flourishing gut microbiome is having a wide variety of microorganisms. In fact, a study of twins found that those who had a more diverse gut microbiome were less likely to gain weight over time those with a smaller range of bacteria. When it comes to different bacteria in your gut, the more, the merrier!



How can you score a more diverse microbiome? Step one: Get moving. In one study, scientists examined the gut microbiomes of 32 women before and after they began working out regularly. The women exercised on a treadmill or a stationary bike for half an hour to an hour, three days a week. After a month and a half, the microbiomes of the participants, particularly the lean participants, were more diverse than before. Their gut bacteria also created more short-chain fatty acids, which are compounds that may protect against disease-causing inflammation.

Co-author of the study Jeffrey Woods, Ph.D., a professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, notes that exercise speeds up your digestion and increases blood flow to the intestines. It may also impact levels of hormones that affect your gut. All of these factors may influence your gut microbiome, Woods says.

There’s no one workout that’s best for your gut. The key is to start exercising—and keep at it. In the study, those gut benefits went away when the study participants stopped working out for six weeks. While further studies are needed to understand the effect that exercise has on your gut microbiome and its related health benefits, consider that more motivation to lace up your sneakers and hit the gym!

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