The food you eat plays an integral role in your digestive health, but it’s only one part of a larger picture. You know that regular physical activity is good for your heart, weight, and muscles, but exercise is also an important component for your gut and digestive health. Let’s take a closer look at digestive health and some exercises that can keep your digestion working as it should.
The Importance of Digestive Health
Your digestive system starts at the mouth and ends at the anus. If you were to stretch out the average human digestive system, it would be about 30-feet long. Everything that you eat and drink travels through that pathway. In that process, food is broken down into its component parts. In a healthy digestive system, all the vitamins, minerals, and macro- and micronutrients from food are absorbed, while any waste products and toxins are expelled from the body as waste.
Your digestive system plays a variety of important roles in your general health. Most obviously, it’s how you get your nutrients and fuel (energy). A dysfunctional or otherwise unhealthy digestive system may hinder the absorption of nutrients, resulting in deficiencies, which in the long-term, contribute to severe health issues.
A healthy digestive system also acts as a barrier against illness. When you ingest potentially harmful microbes, your digestive system has mechanisms in place to ensure that they don’t hurt you. The digestive acids in your stomach, for instance, are highly corrosive and effectively neutralize most all invasive bacteria.
Your gut, which mainly comprises the intestines, is home to a complex system of bacteria, viruses, and yeasts. This gut microbiome is so complex that some experts have begun to refer to it as an organ in itself. The gut microbiome has been studied for its numerous roles in your overall health, which may include:
- Helping with the absorption of nutrients
- Synthesizing certain essential vitamins
- Working with your immune system
Some studies even suggest an intrinsic, bidirectional connection between your gut and your central nervous system known as the gut-brain axis. This connection may explain an association between dysbiosis (imbalanced gut bacteria) and certain mood disorders.
How Exercise Can Help Digestion
Regular exercise can play a critical role in aiding your digestion and helping food travel properly through your digestive system. In a small study, healthy volunteers who participated in a jogging or cycling regimen showed an increased gut transit time of up to 30 percent compared to control groups. Another study found that an exercise routine comprising 30 minutes of brisk walking and a daily 11-minute home workout significantly relieved symptoms of chronic constipation.
Exercise may also have anti-inflammatory benefits. Studies found that regular physical exercise released biologically active myokines that exerted anti-inflammatory effects while inhibiting pro-inflammatory mediators. This was found to help relieve symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Physical activity is also one of the best ways to manage stress. Stress has a huge negative impact on your digestive health, from increasing intestinal permeability to altering gastrointestinal motility.
Exercises for Better Digestive Health
Whether it’s swimming, biking, or jogging, any aerobic exercise performed for 30 minutes can get your heart pumping and your blood circulating, at the same time stimulating your gut and digestive system. If you are relegated to your home, consider skipping rope, which acts as an intense, full-body aerobic exercise. Just 10 minutes of skipping rope per day can be a boon for your digestive system.
Certain yoga poses can help to stretch and strengthen your stomach muscles, helping your digestive system in the process. Some easy yoga poses to try:
- Start on the floor on your hands and knees. Your knees should be directly under your hips, and your hands should be slightly ahead of your shoulders.
- Exhale and lift your knees from the floor. You should be on your toes and balls of your feet.
- Lengthen your tailbone and gradually push your thighs back, pressing through your heels and the palms of your hands. Keep your knees straight without locking them.
- Firm your outer arms and press your fingers into the floor, drawing your shoulder blades toward your tailbone.
- Rotate your arms so that your elbow creases face your thumbs.
- Pull your chest toward your thighs while continuing to press the floor away from you. Lengthen and relax your spine.
- Engage your quads and rotate your thighs inward.
- Line up your ears with your upper arms. Relax your head without letting it hang freely.
- Hold for up to three minutes.
- Starting on your hands and knees, keep your big toes touching while widening your knees. Rest your bottom on your heels.
- Sit up straight lengthening your spine through to the top of your head.
- As you exhale, bow your body forward. Your chest should be between or on top of your thighs. Allow your forehead to touch the floor.
- Extend and lengthen your arms, palms down. Slightly apply pressure with your hands to maintain contact between your heels and your bottom. Lengthen from your hips to your fingertips.
- Broaden your upper back while relaxing your lower back. Release any tension in your arms, shoulders, and neck.
- Hold for at least one minute.
- Start flat on your back, palms flat on the floor.
- Inhale and lift your feet off the floor until your legs are at a 90-degree angle. You should be using your core, not your leg muscles.
- Lift your hips and lower back off the floor, using your hands for support.
- Continue to lift, using your hips as the hinge, until your feet rest above your head.
- Press your toes into the floor while also pressing into your heels. Push your tailbone up while pulling your inner thigh into your pelvis.
- Make space between your chest and chin.
- To release safely, keep your hands on your lower back and hinge at your hips until your feet are high above your hips, creating a 90-degree angle. Slowly roll back down.
Yoga also has the benefit of reducing stress and increasing mindfulness.
Crunches, Sit-ups, Planks
Any workout that utilizes your abs and core can support your intestines and foster good digestion. There are numerous variations on crunches and sit-ups to work out all the muscles in your core. Although performing crunches and sit-ups too often may harm your lower back, consider changing things up with planks.
As you can see, it doesn’t take much time or equipment to exercise your digestive system. Some simple core exercises and a 30-minute brisk walk are all you need. Along with these exercises, consider taking a gastrointestinal supplement from Sovereign Laboratories to maintain a healthy gut and digestion.