Exercise And Gut Health: How Physical Activity Can Improve Digestive Function

Exercise for gut health

Exercise and Gut Health go hand in hand! In recent years, more and more research is emerging proving that regular physical activity improves Gut Health and Digestive Function. Read on to find out how! 

What is Gut Health?

Gut health refers to how well your digestive system is functioning. The digestive system takes the food we consume and uses it for nutrients and energy. The overall health of our gut depends on how well this system is working! If your gut is not working well – it can lead to a multitude of health problems, both physically and mentally.

Gut microbiome refers to the mirco-organisms living in your small and large intestines. We have approximately 100 trillion microbes living in the gut. These microbes include bacteria, fungi, yeast, and viruses. Some are bad and some are very beneficial.

When we are aiming to improve gut health, what we are really trying to do is diversify the microbes living in our gut.

When the microbes are diverse and healthy it helps with ease of digestion, regulating the immune system and even enhances moods! When the gut microbes are unhealthy or less diverse, it can lead to illness and affect your mental health. 

The gut is often referred to as the “second brain” due to the complex network of neurons and neurotransmitters that live inside our digestive system which are powerful enough to impact our thoughts, moods, and feelings.

The microbes in our gut are constantly changing and responding to the environment, but it is not only receptive to what we consume, but also to how we exercise and move through the day. 


How does exercise affect gut health?

Exercise has long been recognised as a powerful tool for improving physical fitness and overall health. However, emerging evidence suggests that exercise also has a profound impact on the gut microbiota, leading to improved gut health and overall wellness

Improved Digestive Function

Exercise improves digestive function by increasing blood flow to the digestive system which promotes movement of material  through the intestines, and the elimination of waste products. This can minimise constipation, bloating, and other digestive issues. 

Reduced Inflammation

Chronic inflammation in the gut can lead to a variety of digestive disorders, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Exercise has been shown to reduce inflammation in the gut, which can help to alleviate symptoms of these conditions.

Stress Relief

Stress is a common trigger for digestive issues, as it can disrupt the balance of gut bacteria and increase inflammation in the digestive system. Exercise has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, which can improve digestive function and reduce the risk of gastrointestinal disorders.


What is the Gut Brain Axis? (GBA)

Have you ever had butterflies in your stomach at the thought of something? This shows the close link between our mind and our body. This is signals sent via the Gut Brain Axis which is a 2 way signalling system from the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) to the intestines.

The happy hormone, serotonin, also lives in the gut! So it makes sense that the health of our gut can affect our thoughts, moods and feelings. Happy gut = happy mind! 


From the literature:

A study conducted by Dr Allen, published in the 2018 “Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise”, highlights the benefits of regular exercise. In this study, 32 adults who didn’t regularly exercise were asked to exercise for 6 weeks with no diet changes, then stop for 6 weeks.

Blood tests, stool samples and aerobic fitness testing took place at the beginning, after 6 weeks of exercise, and after another 6 weeks of no exercise.

After 6 weeks of regular exercise, all participants showed higher levels of short chain fatty acids (SCFAs – which reduce inflammation and regulate blood sugar levels) as well as increased amounts of the microbes that produce the SCFAs. After 6 weeks without exercise, their gut health returned to the state it was at the beginning of the study.

This demonstrates to us that consistency is key. Exercise must remain a constant part of lifestyle in order to positively impact the gut and therefore the mind too.

Another similar study tracking forty women, asked half to exercise for 3 hours a week and the other half less than 1.5 hours a week. Large differences in the composition of the gut microbes were found in the results. Of the 11 different types of bacteria, the women who exercised more had higher levels of good bacteria. 

Another study found that exercise increased the growth of a bacteria called Butyrate. Butyrate reduces inflammation and can help repair the lining of the gut. With increased amounts of butyrate, the development of diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease can be prevented and therefore the onset of diabetes can be prevented.

According to rodent studies, changes in the microbiota due to a high fat diet can in fact be reversed by exercise! 


Pilates and Gut Health

Now we know that exercise has many benefits for digestive function, let’s look at Pilates as a tool in enhancing gut health.

Pilates in particular is a good form of exercise for gut health because it targets the abdomen with stretching, relaxing and multi-directional twisting movements to stimulate intestinal contractions and promote blood flow. It also helps create postural awareness and sitting up straight, removing additional pressure on your abdomen.

Pilates is a mind and body exercise, it incorporates deep breathing to relax the vagus nerve which connects our brain and gut. Through this breathing and relaxing, we will lower cortisol levels, and allow the parasympathetic (rest and digest) system to come into play.

Because Pilates increases body awareness, it lets us be more in tune with our body’s signals, which may even help us to eat better and look after our bodies more! 

Pilates is something everybody can do regardless of  age, gender, race, size, or experience. It can be modified to suit an individual’s needs making it very safe and versatile to all individuals.


What else can I do to improve my Gut Health?

In addition to regular exercise, there are several lifestyle factors that can contribute to better gut health. Here are some tips to nurture your gut microbiota and promote overall wellness:

  1. Eat a Balanced Diet: Consume a variety of fibre-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. These foods provide essential nutrients for the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
  2. Stay Hydrated: Drink an adequate amount of water throughout the day to support digestion and maintain proper hydration levels.
  3. Manage Stress: Chronic stress can disrupt the balance of the gut microbiota. Practice stress management techniques, such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or engaging in activities that bring you joy.
  4. Get Sufficient Sleep: Lack of sleep can negatively impact gut health. Aim for 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night to support optimal gut function.
  5. Avoid Excessive Antibiotic Use: Antibiotics can disrupt the balance of the gut microbiota. Use antibiotics only when necessary and under the guidance of a healthcare professional.
  6. Consider Probiotic Supplements: Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can help support a healthy gut microbiota. Consult with your healthcare provider to determine if probiotic supplementation is right for you.




In conclusion, incorporating exercise into your daily routine can have numerous benefits for stronger gut health, improving digestive function, reducing inflammation, and promoting a healthy gut microbiome. Pilates is a safe form of exercise that anyone can introduce into their lifestyle and continue throughout life.

Consistency is the key, so find an activity you enjoy and keep moving! Your gut and your mind will thank you for it. 

If you are ready to embark on a journey to greater Gut Health through Pilates movement Contact Us! 


FAQs about Gut Health

What are the signs of poor gut health?

  • Autoimmune problems, such as thyroid issues, rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes
  • Digestive issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn or bloating
  • Sleep issues
  • Skin rashes and allergies
  • Sugar cravings
  • Unexplained fatigue or sluggishness
  • Unexplained mood disorders, such as depression or anxiety
  • Unexplained weight gain or weight loss

What causes an unhealthy gut?

excessive amounts of processed foods, foods high in fats and high in refined sugars. These foods may promote the growth of damaging bacteria, affecting the microbiome.

What makes a happy gut?

As we read above, exercise and movement improve gut health. As well as a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables and fibrous foods. Eat probiotics and live yoghurt. Avoid excessive refined sugars and alcohol. Sleep well and manage stress levels!

What food should I eat less of?

Refined sugars, artificial sweeteners, fried foods/high fat foods.

What food should I eat more of?

Apples, ginger, greek yoghurt, leafy greens, asparagus, oats

How much exercise should I do for a healthy gut?

150 minutes per week of moderate intensity physical activity has been shown to increase both the richness and diversity of the gut microbiomes. Pilates, walking, jogging, swimming and cycling are great options.

How long does it take to build a healthy gut?

Microbes in the gut can begin to change within a few days of changes to your diet, but the long-term benefits can take several years to show. It is about being consistent with diet and regular exercise for long term benefits.

By Anna Hook, June 2023

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