The digestive system is a major player in our overall physical and emotional health. It’s also one of the most ignored systems, often getting overlooked by exercise enthusiasts who are focused on their heart rates or weight loss goals. However, exercise can not only improve your gastrointestinal health but it can also help to prevent certain diseases like Crohn’s disease. In this blog post, we will explore how exercise improves gastrointestinal health by looking at the anatomy of the digestive system and then discussing specific exercises that have been shown to be beneficial for various GI disorders.
What is the Digestive System and How Does it Work
The digestive system is a network of organs and glands that work together to break down the food we eat into nutrients. This process starts in our mouth, where digestion begins with chewing and saliva breaking down carbohydrates into simple sugars. Next, food makes its way through your esophagus into the stomach – this organ’s main function is to mix up the contents of the stomach into a pasty substance called chyme. The final stage of digestion is in your small intestine, where bile from the gallbladder and enzymes produced by glands lining your intestinal wall help break down foods even further to absorb nutrients like fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals.
How Exercise Can Benefit Your GI Health
Physical exercise has been shown to improve gastrointestinal health in a variety of ways, such as:
- Improving digestion by strengthening muscles and increasing blood flow
- Reducing stress on the digestive tract
- Decreasing symptoms associated with certain GI disorders like IBS or colorectal cancer
- Improving immune function, which can protect against infection
Throughout the digestive process, exercise has been shown to increase muscle contractions that help break up food as well as reducing stomach acid secretion and digestive enzyme activity – three things that can have a negative impact on GI health when they’re over-stimulated. In addition, exercise can help reduce pain for people who suffer from conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Which Exercises Have the Most Benefit for GI Health
When it comes to exercise and GI health, there are many different exercise routines that have been shown to be beneficial.
High-Intensity Interval Training
High-intensity interval training, also known as HIIT, consists of short bursts of intense exercise followed by periods of recovery exercise. In a study on mice with IBS, HIIT was found to reduce pain and increase intestinal contractions while also increasing the release of serotonin – a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood as well as GI function.
Barre workouts have also been shown to be beneficial for people suffering from constipation or a bloated stomach. This exercise focuses on small, isometric movements that help tone the body and improve core strength – both of which have a positive impact on your digestive system function.
Lower Intensity Exercises
Both walking and running increase blood circulation, and lower intensity exercise routines like walking can also be beneficial for gastro health as they stimulate muscle contractions in the torso without overly stimulating digestion through heavy exercise.
Yoga postures such as twists, shoulder stands or head stands can help stretch out digestive organs, and exercises that strengthen the pelvic floor muscles such as Kegel exercises, can also be extremely valuable.
Lastly, stretching, mobility and breathing techniques, enable you to improve your ability to absorb nutrients.
When Is the Best Time to Exercise
Consider exercising a little while after eating – at least an hour after a meal – rather than before a meal. Exercise can cause your gut to contract, and if you exercise too soon after eating, you may find yourself experiencing cramping or bloating from gas that is a result of fermentation of food in the stomach or intestines.
It’s also highly recommended that you exercise in the morning or early afternoon, particularly if your digestive system is a little on the slow side. Doing so will help boost a stagnant digestive system and potentially prevent bloating.
Other Benefits of Exercise
Beyond the advantages for your digestion, exercise has a number of other positive impacts on the body, including:
- Helping reduce anxiety and depression
- Improving sleep quality
- Increasing production of serotonin, which can assist GI function as well as any mood swings or cravings
- Regulating blood sugar levels and helping with weight loss
More Tips for Improving Digestive Health
In order to improve gastrointestinal health it’s important to eat a balanced diet full of nutrient-rich foods like vegetables and fruits, lean proteins such as fish and poultry, healthy fats like those found in olive oil and avocados, and whole grains. This will keep you full longer so that your body doesn’t try to digest foods when it’s not ready (which can lead to bloating). It also provides the nutrients needed for proper digestion such as B-vitamins which help with processing carbohydrates, zinc which is essential for the proper function of our intestines, and magnesium which helps fight muscle spasms (like those that can lead to constipation).
Beyond this, try and eat food rich in probiotics (naturally-grown bacteria that assist your intestines in the breakdown of food), such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi and dark chocolate.
Another important step toward GI health involves hydration. Staying well-hydrated throughout your day will help keep everything moving smoothly through your digestive tract so you don’t experience any uncomfortable symptoms. Drinking water before, during, and after meals is especially important for proper digestion.
Drinking water beforehand and then waiting about 30 minutes after eating to drink again can help aid digestion by allowing the stomach time to produce acid, as well as providing enough space for food. Drinking a glass of water throughout your meal so that you don’t feel too full from an empty stomach is also helpful because it allows proper chewing and mixing with saliva before entering the stomach.
Drinking another glass of water about 30 minutes after your meal can help to flush out excess acid in the system, which is helpful for those who suffer from heartburn and other GI problems that are related to too much acid production.
With all this in mind, it’s evident that exercise and physical fitness can have a huge impact on your gastrointestinal health. There are many different exercise routines that have been shown to be beneficial for those suffering from conditions like IBS as well as general gastrointestinal disorders, not to mention in reducing pain and increasing intestinal contractions that can increase the release of serotonin and help with mood regulation as well.
Remember, exercise has a symbiotic relationship with our digestive system – they work together to keep us healthy all over!