The gut microbiota is the collective microbial community housed within the lumen (the space inside the tubular structure) of our intestinal tract. There is a growing body of evidence on the capability of the human microbiome to respond to dietary, environmental, pathological and genetic factors. The gastrointestinal (GI) microbiome represents a complex network of trillions of microbes, mainly consisting of bacteria, which coordinate in a bidirectional way to affect our general state of health.
The effect of diet and potential therapies (prebiotics and probiotics), in improving the gut health, have been extensively studied and recently the role of environmental factors such as exercise is also being understood to affect our gut health and our health in general. A relatively recent cultural, behavioral and dietary shift alongside the availability of calorie-rich food has led to the development of an obesogenic (obesity) lifestyle in humans.
Obesity is ranked as the most prevalent preventable health-related disease globally. Current estimates suggest that approximately 2.1 billion people worldwide are either categorized as obese or overweight as of now. Obesity is understood to be a multifactorial disease resulting from interconnected factors such as social, environmental, physiological, neural, and genetic components. The gastrointestinal tract symbolizes the primary interface between our health and the consumed nutrients. Recent research has implicated the gut microbiota in the development of many metabolic diseases in humans.
Exercise has been widely recognized as a useful therapy for a range of diseases including cardiovascular diseases, cancer, depression, anxiety, diabetes, and systemic inflammation. The processes through which exercise can have a therapeutic effect on human diseases have been extensively studied and found to be many and also interconnected. In this article, we will try to focus on the role of exercise in the lens of changes in gut microbiota, the effect of exercise on our gut microbiota composition and the therapeutic benefits of exercise in transforming the characteristics of the gut microbiota.
Exercise and The Gut Microbiome
In a study conducted, where mice were made to undergo exercise and their sedentary counterparts were compared based the diversity of their microbiota, researchers observed a change in over two thousand bacterial taxa. Research has already established the role of gut microbiota in the regulation of metabolism in skeletal muscle. In mice, exercise has been demonstrated to increase the prevalence of the Lactobacillales order and decrease bacteria from the Tenericutes phylum within the microbiota. This is further supported by the reported increase in the Lactobacillus genus in obese rats after undergoing exercise.
Multiple studies have shown that exercise induces an increase in microbial diversity, which is one of the signs of a healthy gut both in animals and humans. In one of the few studies which involved humans, athletic rugby players and healthy controls were compared based on their microbiota composition. Athletes showed more than twice as many phyla, genera, and families of bacteria compared to their non-athletic counterparts. This suggests a role of exercise in increasing our microbiota diversity.
Exercise has been shown to counteract the alterations in the gut microbiota caused by a high-fat diet. Moreover, evidence suggests that early life exercise can influence the gut microbiota composition stimulating the development of bacteria which are capable of determining our metabolic profile. Early life exercise might help in the optimal development of brain function and in promoting health-enhancing microbial guests in our gut.
There is enough literature to confirm a therapeutic role of exercise in promoting good health. The mechanisms by which the gut microbiota influences our energy, metabolism and satiety are being studied extensively and researchers have established the unique relationship of exercise in shaping our microbiome independent of the diet. Thus, exercise alters the gut microbial population quantitatively and qualitatively which benefits the host aka us.
Exercise leads to the enrichment of microflora diversity, contributing to reducing weight, obesity, and gastrointestinal disorders. Exercise promotes the proliferation of gut bacteria which can influence our mucosal immunity and improve barrier function, which can help in the reduction of metabolic diseases and obesity.
Exercise also helps in stimulating the growth of bacteria which is capable of producing substances which protect us against colon cancer and gastrointestinal diseases. So, now you know how your gym routine, or your morning jog, or the many other forms of exercises, are interconnected with the concept of human health in terms of your gut.
Disclaimer: The above article is sponsored by Thryve, the world’s first Gut Health Program that incorporates microbiome testing and personalized probiotics to ensure a healthier gut, happier life, and a brighter future.
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 Monda V, Villano I, Messina A, et al. Exercise Modifies the Gut Microbiota with Positive Health Effects. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. 2017;2017:3831972. doi:10.1155/2017/3831972.
 Chandrakumaran H, Safdar A, Sager M, Nazli A, Akhtar M (2016) Regular Exercise Shapes Healthy Gut Microbiome. J Bacteriol Mycol Open Access 3(3): 00063. DOI: 10.15406/jbmoa.2016.03.0063.