Movement and Gut Health

POSTED BY admin | Sep, 07, 2021 |


With the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics in full flow and the exceptional athletes competing against one another – we thought it a timely to explore movement and gut health.

Exercise, physical activity, and cardiovascular health are all used to define different aspects of movement.

  1. Physical activity = the accumulation of movement over a day, including incidental movement such as walking around.
  2. Exercise = structured planned movement, such as going on a run.
  3. Cardiovascular fitness = a measure of the efficiency of our cardiovascular system.

However, of importance is finding movement that you enjoy and can continue to participate in for the long term.

For some of us, that may be strength training in the gym, for others a yoga class, hiking or gardening may be more suited. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to move our bodies. Therefore, in this blog, when not in reference to specific research, I will use the term “movement”.



Healthy human adults contain trillions of microbes along our gut; however, the composition of our microbiome is largely unique to individuals! The human gut microbiome has evolved with us and is associated with beneficial effects to our health. In general, it is agreed that an increase in the number and variety of microbes, and certain alterations, are associated with improved health.

Factors which can affect the gut microbiome composition include:

  • The environment in utero before birth, delivery route, and breast feeding.
  • Where you live in the world
  • Dietary pattern
  • Stress

And you guessed it… movement!


Low-intensity exercise

Moving our bodies encourages our guts to move, therefore, it is a simple step to improving both constipation and bloating. Walking, easy hikes, slow cycling, or swimming are all examples of low-intensity exercise which has been shown to increase the transient time of stool – (waste products) move through us quicker. This means there is less time for contact between bacteria which can cause us harm, and our GI tract. This benefit appears to be present, independent of a diet that is high in fat.




A study took place in 2017, where participants attended a 3-month yoga and meditation retreat. This was associated with decreased inflammation self-reported anxiety and depression.

Yoga, relaxation, meditation and structured breathing, have been associated with beneficial effects on our gut. Many people will have heard of our “flight or fight” response, what yoga does simply put, is does the opposite – it actives our “rest and digest” response.

The low FODMAP diet may be used to reduced symptoms in patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) – please always talk with a Registered Nutritionist or Dietitian before cutting out foods). Very interestingly, research comparing the Low FODMAP diet with x3 nutrition counselling sessions to x2 yoga session a week, found no difference in the effect of these groups on IBS symptoms! Both groups reported an 80% significant improvement in IBS symptoms!


Diet and exercise

Studies on elite rugby players demonstrate they have a greater number, and more varied range of microbes in their gut (beneficial), associated with a higher protein intake. Alternatively, other research has found regardless of diet, cardiovascular fitness was positively linked with a more beneficial make up of the gut microbiome.

There is a relationship between exercise, and our gut microbiome composition, but it is complicated by many factors affect our gut microbiome composition (as shown earlier). This includes our diet – keep reading for more nutrition!



Individuals taking part in endurance exercise, such as long distance running, have often been associated with increased GI issues, such as nausea, bloating and stomach pain, defined as “exercise-induced GI syndrome”. It is estimated this occurs in 30-90% of athletes.

The main point here, if you are experiencing exercise-related GI problems, maybe planning exercise around the times you eat may help, including a reduction if fibre and fat content before a race. It does not mean cutting foods out in the longer term – remember, if they are safe for us to eat, all foods can have a place in our diet! In fact, food restriction with exercise has been associated with negative changes to the gut microbiome – and as such negative effects on our gut health!

So, can we do anything about exercise-induced GI syndrome?

Yes! Research shows individuals not used to drinking or eating food close to exercising are at a 2-fold increased risk of GI symptoms, compared to those who are used to it. You may have heard about “training your gut”. This is the concept that our guts are highly adaptable, and encompassing so adding nutrition timing into our training schedules may help reduce GI upset.

You may want to consider working with a sports nutritionist to help you with this – look out for the letters “SENR” after people’s names to let you know they are on the Sports and Exercise Nutrition Register. If you are looking for a qualified dietitian or nutritionist, you can search the following 2021 registers below:


This relationship is not simple, for example, other factors from our environment, stress, diet, and more, all also influence the make-up of our gut microbiome. In addition, more research is needed in this field, as large parts of the gut microbiome currently remain unexplored.

However, collectively the evidence to date suggests that exercise can increase the richness, and diversity of our gut microbiome, associated with possible benefits for the individual’s  health.



  • British Dietetic Association. Give your friendly gut bacteria a helping hand.
  • UK Chief Medical Officers’ Physical Activity Guidelines.
  • The Gut Health Clinic. Dr Megan Rossi (PhD, RD, APD).

The above blog has been written by Emilia Fish, BSc A Nutr in association with Sian Shepherd BSc RD – Specialist Registered Gastroenterology Dietitian.

If you want to learn more about the research behind some of the blog content, please open up the hyperlinks contained within the article.

September 2021

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