Regular exercise can be good for your belly, and we're not just talking about getting rid of a muffin top. A study published in the latest edition of Gut—an international journal on gastroenterology with a fantastic name—suggests that exercise might actually be beneficial for your GI tract, or rather, the helpful bacteria that live inside it.
Your intestines house trillions of bacteria, and we don't mean the scary kind. Rather, scientists have found that it's primarily bacteria that you need to aid digestion and keep you from getting sick. While the foods we eat affect the levels and type of bacteria in our bodies, the recent study suggests lifestyle may play a role as well.
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Researchers at University College Cork in Ireland wanted to know how exercise played into the development of certain microbiota, formerly known as 'flora'; In particular, researchers are looking at microbiota associated with obesity and GI diseases.
In the study, rugby players were used as guinea pigs and their microbiota was measured against that of two sedentary control groups. The results showed that the players had more microbiota in a more diverse range, all associated with better metabolism and anti-inflammatory benefits. This means you're at a lower risk for things like inflammatory bowel disease—not something you want when riding lots of miles where pit stop options aren't easy to find.
"The most important outcome of our study is that draws attention to the possibility that exercise may have a beneficial effect on the microbiota," explains Fergus Shanahan, one of the researchers from the study and a Professor and Chair of the Department of Medicine. "Microbial diversity seems to have potential as a new biomarker or indicator of health."
The researchers also found that a protein-rich diet also is shown to increase these microbiota, so don't forget about a post-ride recovery snack that's high in protein. Eating a diet rich in probiotics is also an easy way to keep your gut flora happy.
And cycling may be the perfect low-impact solution for those who already experience serious GI distress, who often have, um, explosive problems with running or high-impact exercises.
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