Before beginning, I think it is worth stating that my understanding of the gut and of what helps to improve it’s health, stems primarily from fixing my own difficulties. I am certainly no ‘expert’. I simply became frustrated with the avenues available to me whilst suffering with gut trouble as a professional athlete. Armed with an innate stubbornness and fed up of being prescribed drugs, I decided to get geeky on the gut. In doing so I developed my own ridiculously uncomplicated blueprint for healing my gut. The basis of this blueprint are diet, mind and movement. What I’ve written below seeks to address the latter of these; movement.
It seems that we are finally beginning to understand (or rather accept) the effect that our gut microbiome has on our overall health. The makeup of our biomes can dictate anything from our ability to lose or gain weight, our susceptibility to illness, to our energy and our behaviours. The good news is that our guts, much like all things in our bodies, have an incredible ability to adapt.
Regular exercise/movement has been shown to improve the diversity of the microbiome. In a study (Clarke SF 2014) comparing the microbiomes of elite athletes (rugby players) with a group of individuals with a healthy BMI and another group who’s BMI was above average, the athletes demonstrated the greatest diversity/richness and the overweight group showed the lowest.
Another impact of regular movement that I find fascinating is the effect it has on telomere length. Telomeres are found at the end of chromosomes and are responsible for protecting our genetic data and cell division. Exercise has been shown to slow down the shortening of these telomeres and is therefore connected to the slowing of aging and the prevention of health risks associated with aging such as chronic disease (FLI 2017).
I could go on stating the benefits of regular movement but I think it’s clear that moving our bodies frequently at differing rates of intensities is good for us. But how do you know which type of exercise is best for you? Exercise is a stress. Hence it causes adaptation and therefore improvement. It shouldn’t however cause long term stress. In recent years HIIT workouts and dark studios have become the mode. Whilst high intensity exercise has a host of benefits, it is also important to understand the potential repercussions of always exercising in this way.
From a biomechanical standpoint, high intensity exercise classes and YouTube videos do not cater for individuals. They for the most part, neglect sufficient warm up and mobilisation. This result of which is often injury – an unwanted stress. Also, consistently stressing your body at high intensities (particularly for the untrained) puts a great stress on your adrenals. And…your adrenals affect your gut.
So what is the answer? Well in an ideal world everyone would have their own personalised training programme specifically tailored to individual requirements. But for most, this isn’t an ideal world! So to coin an incredibly over used and not particularly helpful term, balance is key. I therefore encourage a few basic strategies.
- Move daily – Walk, Run, Stretch, Jump, Swim, Lift. Whatever it is, move.
- Move early – Moving (or flowing as I call it), first thing in the morning (ideally in a fasted state) has an amazing effect on your state for the day ahead. Just 10 minutes can be enough to encourage blood flow, encourage healthy bowel movements, decrease anxiety and increase focus.
- First move well. Then move more – Mobility and correct movement patterns that promote pain free and active living should be the foundation of all movement. Sure six packs are cool but if they come with underlying back pain then it’s all smoke and mirrors.
- Challenge yourself – Set goals. Big or small. Take your body to new realms. Challenge creates drive. Drive harbours effective behaviours. Behaviours dictate our health.
- Listen to your body (not your brain) – Your brain will tell you lots of unhelpful things when it comes to exercise. It’s amazing the excuses that it can conjure and the limits it can enforce. Listen instead to your body. Ask yourself how you feel. Be honest with yourself. Get to know your body. Clarity in mind body connection is one the greatest tools at our disposal.
Like I said, movement is only one pillar in mastering gut health. But it should never be neglected. You will be told to eat this, eat that. Take this, take that. But there is medicine in movement and it’s not complicated and it costs nothing!