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Gastroenterologist Reveals if Exercise Helps Digestion

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Published By: Dr. Jeffrey Mark
Date: December 14, 2023

Digestive health is a cornerstone of overall well-being. With the increasing focus on lifestyle changes for better overall health outcomes, a frequently asked question is: Does exercise help and improve digestion?

This article examines the relationship between physical activity and digestive health.

We will look at the science, types of exercises, practical tips, and any risks or downsides to consider regarding exercise and gastrointestinal health.


The Science Behind Exercise and Digestion

Science Behind Exercise and Digestion

The digestive system is complex, involving various organs working in harmony. Physical activity influences this system by enhancing blood flow, improving gut motility, and altering the gut microbiome in a positive way.

It also stimulates the muscles of the gastrointestinal tract, aiding in smoother and faster digestion, and can alleviate common digestive issues like constipation and bloating. If you want more info on constipation, you can learn more here.

There is an increase in the bacteria producing butyrate a short-chain fatty acid that helps maintain a strong gut lining and barrier and is the preferred nutrient fuel for the colon.

Regular exercise has been shown to alleviate symptoms of digestive disorders like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), constipation, and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).

Benefits for Digestive Disorders

Benefits for Digestive Disorders

Exercise can offer relief for various digestive disorders. For instance, aerobic exercises are beneficial for individuals with IBS, as they help regulate bowel movements and reduce bloating.

Jeff has written why you might be having Gastritis and Shortness of breath-related issues. Do check that if you are interested to know more.

Gentle forms of exercise like yoga can decrease stress levels, which is particularly helpful for conditions exacerbated by stress, such as GERD and stomach ulcers.

The incidence of Inflammatory bowel disease, diverticulosis, and colon cancer have been found to be reduced with exercise.

Types of Exercises Beneficial for Digestion

Not all exercises are created equal when it comes to aiding digestion. Aerobic exercises like walking, cycling, and swimming can increase heart rate and stimulate intestinal activity.

Gentle stretching and yoga can relieve stress, a known aggravator of digestive issues. While strength training might not directly impact digestion, it improves overall body composition and metabolism, indirectly benefiting digestive health.

Aerobic Exercises

Aerobic Exercises

Aerobic exercises such as walking, jogging, swimming, and cycling are excellent for enhancing digestive health. These activities help speed up digestion by increasing blood flow and encouraging the movement to digest food through the digestive system.

Stretching and Yoga

Stretching and Yoga

Yoga and stretching exercises are particularly effective in relieving digestive discomfort. They promote relaxation, reduce stress, and can alleviate symptoms of digestive disorders like IBS and acid reflux.

Strength Training

Strength Training

While strength training might not directly impact the digestive process, it strengthens the core muscles, improving posture, and indirectly supporting the digestive organs.

Moreover, it enhances overall metabolic health, which is beneficial for the digestive system.

For those who may have missed it, I have shared If a bad posture can cause stomach pain on RealGutDoctor.

Practical Tips for Exercising for Better Digestion

Timing can be crucial.

For example, a light walk after meals can aid digestion. However, intense workouts should be avoided immediately after the food intake.

For those with specific digestive disorders, tailored exercise plans are recommended. Integrating physical activity into daily life, like taking stairs instead of elevators, can also contribute to digestive health.

Best Times to Exercise

Best Times to Exercise

The timing of your exercise can help impact its effectiveness on digestion. There is strong evidence available that suggests that a gentle walk after meals can aid in digestion help regulate blood sugar levels and avoid health issues like diabetes. However, it's advisable to wait for at least an hour after a heavy meal before engaging in more strenuous activities.

Exercises to Avoid

Exercises to Avoid

Individuals with specific acute digestive conditions should avoid high intensity exercises right after meals or exercises that put excessive pressure on the abdomen.

Incorporating Exercise into Daily Routines

Making small changes like using stairs instead of elevators, walking during breaks, or practicing desk-based stretches can contribute significantly to digestive health.

Potential Risks and Considerations

While exercise is generally beneficial, it's important to tailor your exercise regimen to your specific health conditions. It’s not a cure-all. Individuals with certain health conditions should exercise caution.

Over-exercising or engaging in inappropriate physical exercise can sometimes exacerbate digestive problems.

Extreme sports athletes or ultra marathoners can have digestive pain, cramping, or bleeding as the blood flow in high-demand activities shunts blood away from the gastrointestinal tract.

Consulting with healthcare professionals to create a balanced exercise plan is crucial.

Recent research supports exercise recommendations for digestive health.

For instance, published studies showed improvement in the gut microbiome diversity, increased lactobacillus species producing butyrate to support a healthy gut lining, and decreased inflammatory bacteria all with regular exercise.

Better control of weight and an improved immune system have also been found with regular moderate exercise.

Summing Up

Regular physical activity is a key component of digestive health.

Reap the benefits of improved nutrient absorption, reduced risk for colon cancer, boosting of good gut bacteria, improved bowel movements, maintenance of a healthy weight, and prevention of gallstones.

By understanding how different types of exercises impact the digestive system and incorporating them appropriately into our routines, we can improve our digestive health and overall quality of life.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Does exercise clean your gut?

Moderate aerobic exercise can improve gut health. One of the ways is by reducing more pro-inflammatory bacteria and promoting more immune-friendly bacteria that produce butyrate. Butyrate is the preferred fuel of the large intestine.

It helps build and maintain a healthy gut barrier. In this sense, exercise can “clean” your gut of more problematic bacteria.

Should you work out with digestive issues?

You may still exercise even with digestive issues but you may need to select an activity that you’ll be able to tolerate and won’t make your other medical conditions worse.

If you can’t jog, swim, or cycle then walking may be an option. If you can’t walk then yoga, stretching or mild strength training would still give you gut health benefits.

Can exercise speed up digestion?

In regards to bowel motility, exercise does increase blood flow to all the muscles including the abdominal and other muscles of the digestive system. This can increase peristalsis and bowel transit time. More recent research has shown that changes in the gut bacteria or microbiome from exercise may also benefit motility and digestion.

What happens to your liver when you exercise?

Regular exercise is a necessity for a healthy liver. Exercise decreases stress on the liver, increases energy levels, and helps to prevent obesity.

Inactivity, excess calories, and weight gain are risk factors for fatty liver. Benefits may be seen with a brisk walk or swim for about 150 minutes a week.

Take care, stay healthy, and share the wellness,

Jeffrey Mark, M.D.


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Dr. Jeffrey Mark
With over thirty years of experience, Dr. Mark is a leading expert in holistic gut health. His integrative approach combines conventional medicine, functional and regenerative medicine, and advanced therapies to heal the gut and transform patient health. Holding 5 board certifications, Dr. Mark offers the comprehensive expertise of five medical specialists during each patient visit. He is dedicated to optimizing wellbeing by addressing the gut-related root causes of chronic health issues.
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