How exercise benefits you and your microbiome

Our bodies are full of activity. Whether we're awake or asleep, blood and oxygen are pumping through our bodies. Some cells are dying, while others are born. Connections are being made and life is happening.

A major centre of activity is the microbiome, our body’s very own ecosystem of beneficial microbes that has evolved alongside and inside us. Within our large intestines, trillions of bacteria are busy working to support our immune and digestive system health.

It's an ecosystem as complex and interconnected as a tropical rainforest.

Our bodies want us to be active

The food we eat becomes part of us, harvested not only for life-giving nutrients and vitamins, but for the very energy that fuels us.

Exercise allows us to put this energy to good use, offering a range of beneficial effects to the microbiome, and to the rest of our bodies.

A holistic lifestyle aims to keep our energy in balance. Ideally, the energy our bodies expend should match the energy we consume from our food.

The modern slump

In the early days of humankind, before cities and industrialisation, maintaining an energy balance was comparatively simple. Our lifestyles involved daily exercise, and energy-rich foods were harder to come by.

In today’s Western world, maintaining this balance is more of a challenge. Many of us spend our days cooped indoors, hunched over a desk or mobile device. And processed food is all around us, so it’s important that we listen to our bodies and embrace an active lifestyle.

The benefits of energy balance

Staying fit and healthy is perhaps the most obvious advantage of regular exercise, but it's just one of the many benefits.

Exercise is also one of the most effective ways to combat stress. It flushes out toxins, helps centre our mind, and puts adrenaline to good use.

It's not just our physical self that benefits from exercise either. Exercise can improve our mental clarity, encourage social interaction and bring a greater sense of balance and calm. What’s not to like?

You can use exercise as an opportunity to get outside and reconnect with the natural world, and there's an extra bonus if you're exercising outdoors: the vitamin D you absorb from the sun helps your body build healthy bones and teeth.

Exercise can boost the microbiome's production of short-chain fatty acids, which are important  for supporting general  health.

Active body, diverse microbiome

The more we learn about the microbiome, the more links we find between exercise and a healthy gut.

It’s still a new area of research, but it’s widely believed that daily exercise can help increase gut microbial diversity.

This is good news for your microbiome, which benefits from a diverse range of bacteria.

Exercise can boost the microbiome's production of short-chain fatty acids, which are important  for supporting general  health.

And it helps to work up a sweat, as sufficiently high-intensity exercise can favourably alter the presence, activity and clustering of our gut microbes.

First steps

Some people find that exercise comes easily. If that's you, half your luck and congratulations. Your microbiome thanks you.

But many of us need a little shove to get going.

The good news is, the more frequently we exercise, the easier and more enjoyable it becomes. But the first step is always the hardest.

If you've become too sedentary and need that little push to get you back into exercise, try this:

Put on a comfortable pair of shoes and head outside. Start walking, and don't stop until you've seen at least five different types of plant or tree you don't know the name of. Maybe take photos or gather leaves to help you identify them later.

The next day, keep going until you've seen five more unfamiliar trees. And so on. Then, once you're in the habit of daily exercise, try jogging for parts of your walk.

Your first outing may only take you around the block, but each day you'll be going further afield, as well as increasing your knowledge of the natural world. It’s this low intensity exercise that can spark healthy habits to support your physical health, plus the health of your microbiome.

You'll also be reminded of the miraculous, surprising diversity of the natural world, even in our cities and suburbs.

So, lace up and get out there!

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