We all know that exercise is good for us. It can help us maintain a healthy weight, improve our cardiovascular health, and even boost our mood. But did you know that exercise can also have a positive impact on the trillions of microbes that make up our microbiome? Recent research suggests that regular exercise can improve the diversity and abundance of our gut microbiota, which in turn may lead to a host of health benefits.
The microbiome is the collection of microorganisms that live in and on our bodies. These microbes play a crucial role in our overall health, influencing everything from our digestion to our immune system. In recent years, researchers have become increasingly interested in how lifestyle factors such as diet, stress, and exercise can affect the microbiome.
One study published in the journal Gut Microbes found that exercise can increase the diversity of gut bacteria in mice. The researchers found that mice who ran on a treadmill for 30 minutes per day had a more diverse microbiome than sedentary mice. This is important because a diverse microbiome has been linked to better health outcomes, including a reduced risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Another study published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology found that endurance exercise can increase the abundance of a type of bacteria called Akkermansia muciniphila in humans. This bacteria has been linked to improvements in glucose metabolism and reductions in inflammation, both of which are important for overall health.
So how exactly does exercise affect the microbiome? One theory is that physical activity increases the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) in the gut. SCFAs are produced when bacteria in the colon ferment fiber from the diet. These compounds have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and may play a role in maintaining a healthy gut barrier.
Exercise may also influence the microbiome by reducing stress. Stress has been shown to disrupt the balance of gut bacteria, leading to an overgrowth of harmful microbes. Regular exercise has been shown to reduce stress levels and improve mental health, which may in turn have a positive effect on the microbiome.
But the benefits of exercise on the microbiome may go beyond physical health. A recent study published in the journal Science Advances found that exercise can improve motivation by altering the gut microbiota. The researchers found that mice who exercised regularly had higher levels of a bacteria called Lactobacillus, which was associated with increased levels of a neurotransmitter called dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a key player in the brain’s reward system, and is involved in feelings of pleasure and motivation.
While the study was conducted in mice, the researchers believe that the findings may have implications for humans as well. If exercise can alter the microbiome in a way that leads to increased motivation, it could be a valuable tool for those struggling with depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues.
So how much exercise do you need to reap the benefits for your microbiome? The answer is not clear-cut. While the studies mentioned above provide some insight, more research is needed to determine the optimal amount and type of exercise for microbiome health. However, experts recommend aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, such as brisk walking or cycling.