Updated: Aug 3
Is it just a myth, or are there certain exercises that can improve digestion?
Physical fitness, we have heard of its plethora of benefits. It stimulates muscle tissue growth, it provides cardiovascular benefits, has a beneficial effect on blood pressure, provides an outlet for socialization & stress release, has a hand in circadian rhythm regulation...the list is exhaustive!
Exercises that can improve digestion- exercise impacts how your body digests & uses nutrients too. Which is what all of the Empowered To Go community have experienced first hand.
The Exercises That Help Digestion:
Let's make one thing clear: every form of exercise can have a positive impact on the body, as well as a negative impact. What's important to remember?
This isn't a post that's telling you "do this, not that." If that's what you're interested in, I'm happy to help you itemize what's best for your nutrition & fitness goals in an Empowered Hour.
If you enjoy HIIT training (like me!), you can still participate in your favourite HIIT classes. If you're not a fan of yoga classes, you aren't resigned to only sticking with yoga classes for the foreseeable.
But...there's always a but. There are exercises that can improve digestion. They might not be exactly what you think they are!
In a study which observed elite athletes, strenuous exercise & dehydrated states were the causes of gastrointesintal symptoms referred by seventy percent of athletes (Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care).
Mild to moderate exercise types include:
Walking- Hot Girl/ Guy walks are all the rage anyway. Your commute to the train station can double as a daily digestion regulator.
Yoga- Any form; vinyasa, hatha, yin, restorative. Yoga incorporates deep breathing which activates your parasympathetic nervous system which encourages normal digestive function to occur.
Cycling- Cycling as moderate exercise is defined as "cycling ten to twelve miles per hour" (Harvard University). Cycling at this speed, for 30 to 40 minutes, can prompt blood flow throughout the body & enhance bowel regularity.
Swimming- As above, swimming can enhance blood flow throughout the body, as well as bowel regularity. Moreover, swimming has been shown to be especially beneficial for hypertensive individuals (SEU Roma).
Lower volume/ moderate rep strength training- Strength & resistance training in a muscular endurance range (mid range weights, moderate to higher reps) contributes to optimal blood flow as well as regular stimulation/ suppression of digestive enzymes. This can aid in predicting bowel regularity!
Now, you're probably thinking, "right, that's all fine & good. Why is higher intensity exercise (like running, HIIT, 100 crunch challenges), not good for my digestion?"
Why Certain Exercises Don't Help Digestion:
Let's take running, for example:
It stimulates the "fight or flight" response, which pumps higher volume of blood throughout to the heart & lungs.
It decreases the blood flow to the digestive system, which leaves less opportunity for nutrients to be carried throughout the body.
It pushes water through the body for absorption, which could unintentionally go quickly through the large intestine (colon) & create an urgency for the bathroom.
But what if I like running??
Don't panic!! It's not necessary to stop all moderate to high intensity activity, especially if you enjoy it & it brings you stress release. What does all of this information really mean?
It's extremely beneficial to engage in various forms of exercise.
In particular, it's beneficial to utilize "active recovery" exercises like walking, swimming, yoga/ pilates, casual cycling, & moderate weighted exercises.
Exercise can have a positive impact on digestion through both muscular & neural influences on the digestive tract & complimenting hormone & enzyme secretion. It's simply understanding that always opting for the most high intensity exercise isn't the solution to every problem.
If you feel like you're still searching for the "right answers," I totally understand. Which is exactly why I offer a free Wellness Q&A, as well as quick guides to help you start getting the answers you want, right now.