If you have tummy troubles, going for a run may be the last thing you feel like doing. But running and physical activity in general can have a profound impact on your digestive health. Understanding how exercise impacts your intestinal health can help you turn your tummy troubles around and put you on the road to intestinal inner peace.
Your Digestive System
From circulation to muscle contraction, activity in your digestive tract affects virtually every metabolic function in your body. As the food you eat moves along your intestinal tract, various hormones, enzymes and bacteria work away at fats, carbohydrates and proteins until they are broken down into molecules small enough to be absorbed by your cells. Strong pelvic floor muscles work with your intestines to move the indigestible parts of food through your eliminatory tract and out of your body.
Causes of Digestive Disorders
Inactivity and poor nutrition can upset your balance of hormones, enzymes and bacterial flora, leading to constipation, bloating, leaky gut syndrome, diarrhea, and other digestive irritations. But overexertion and dehydration can also cause problems. A 2009 study of runners published in "Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care" found that long-duration strenuous exercise can divert oxygenated blood away from the gut, resulting in nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea. The symptoms were most common in professional runners and less common in recreational runners. Unless you are an endurance athlete, overexertion is unlikely to be the cause of your irritated intestines. Being dehydrated, however, could be a contributing factor.
Exercise and Digestive Health
According to an article published by Harvard Health Publications, aerobic exercise is very beneficial for healthy digestion, stimulating the natural contraction of your intestinal muscles and helping food move rhythmically through your system. Running also helps strengthen the muscles of your pelvic floor, which helps eliminate undigested stool. A 2001 review of literature published in "Gut" pointed out that exercise can reduce your risk of diverticulosis, gastrointestinal hemorrhage and inflammatory bowel disease.
Other Lifestyle Factors
While physical activity is vital to your intestinal health, wholesome nutrition goes hand-in-hand with exercise. Avoid sugars, artificial sweeteners and refined grains. Steer clear of foods containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, which may be at the root of many digestive disorders. Instead, choose whole, natural fruits and vegetables, organic meats and wild-caught fish. Cultured yogurt or a daily probiotic supplement can work to restore healthy digestive flora to a damaged intestinal tract.
- Alliance for Natural Health: Genetically Engineered Food Alters Our Digestive Systems
- Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care: The Impact of Physical Exercise on the Gastrointestinal Tract
- Gut: Potential Benefits and Hazards of Physical Activity and Exercise on the Gastrointestinal Tract
- Harvard Health Publications: Keep Your Digestive System in Shape
- University of Michigan Health Systems: Bowel Function Anatomy
Michelle Matte is an accomplished fitness professional who holds certifications in personal training, pilates, yoga, group exercise and senior fitness. She has developed curricula for personal trainers and group exercise instructors for an international education provider. In her spare time, Matte writes fiction and blogs.