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The Top Form of Exercise To Improve Digestion

There's a reason that functional training is having its moment in the spotlight recently; for you, it could be the simple sweet spot you need to find in order to melt belly fat and feel more energetic as you approach daily life. The top form of exercise to improve digestion is, you guessed it, the functional one.


Kettlebell and yoga mat
 

I'm an avid follower of trends- you can read about the 2024 trends that are actually worth following here. Trends gain momentum for two reasons: one reason being that there's purposeful research showing benefit behind whatever it is. The second reason is that there's an algorithm driving exposure of the trend.


Sometimes, it's hard to tell the difference.


So, today, we're going to take a look at a hot topic of conversation that trends in waves throughout the social-verse: using the top form of exercise to improve digestion, eliminate belly bloat, lose body fat, and overall improve your gut health.


If you've caught yourself wondering recently:

  • Why do I always feel bloated after a really tough workout?

  • How does exercise actually "melt" belly fat?

  • I thought exercise raises your cortisol levels, isn't that bad if I have IBS?


Dear reader (in the voice of Dame Julie Andrews), fear not: let's get these questions answered so you can keep moving through your day- and your workout routine- in confidence.


First, I'd love to start with a poll....


What type of exercise do you do in your week? (Pick all that apply)

  • 0%HIIT, spin, running, or other high intensity cardio workouts

  • 0%Yoga, walking, pilates, mobility and core classes

  • 0%Strength training

  • 0%Other (share in the comments below this blog!)


 

Now that we've identified your weekly ways of staying active, let's dive into what's actually going to improve your digestion. First, we have to get a bit science-y so stick with me for the time being.


Exercise does raise cortisol levels, particularly higher intensity workouts such as distance racing/ running, spinning classes, HIIT style workouts- anything that is aiming to bring your heart rate into a zone of between 70% to 90% of your maximum heart rate.


(p.s.- if you want to know what your maximum heart rate is, you subtract your age number from 220)


When your heart rate gets into this zone, and stays in this zone, your body goes into a mode of "oh s***, something's happening and I should start to panic so that I can have enough energy circulating in order to run from whatever is threatening me."


In Paleolithic times, that threat was often a predator or environmental crisis to avoid. In 2024, it's normally an over- caffeinated fitness instructor trying to push you to getting the most out of your workout. There's a slight difference between the needs for urgency, if you can imagine.

 

Why do I always feel bloated after a really tough workout?

You feel bloated after a tough workout (like HIIT, power lifting, high intensity bootcamp classes, a particularly challenging treadmill workout) because of a few things. 1) You're sweating a lot and drinking a lot of fluids to stay hydrated- this is a normal sign! You're thirsty, you're drinking more water, and so upper abdominal bloating is a direct reflection of your stomach being filled with water. 2) Your cortisol levels have increased- remember the over- caffeinated instructor from above? That constant enthusiastic encouragement to keep putting out maximal effort increases your stress hormone levels. When these increase, blood flow pulls away from the digestive tract and causes the muscles around your digestive tract to constrict and prevent food from transiting through. This isn't the time to digest food in your body's eye; it's obviously the time to "PUSH HARDER," "YOU CAN DO THIS," "KEEP THE ENERGY UP." (Do I sound like your 7am bootcamp session yet?) Finally...3) You're swallowing more air- as your heart rate works in the upper range of its exertion levels, you may sometimes catch yourself gasping for air in your rest intervals. You can swallow air, much like you do morsels of food. Air transits into the gut, and gets stuck, leading to an expansive sensation in your midline.


Basically, I'm just trying to make "you're bloating" sound fancy.


How does exercise actually "melt" belly fat?

After reading the answer to the first question, you might think "well crap, exercise raises my cortisol levels so I shouldn't do that if I'm having an IBS flare up."


Don't panic, because I'm about to share with you what I have shared with countless clients in the ETG LIVE and Empowered Elite community- that is the sweet spot.


Studies have shown that mild to moderate exertion in regular exercise routines protects the body from diseases such as colon cancer, diverticulitis, and constipation (Oliveira, 2009). In terms of melting belly fat away, exercise itself can't do this alone- you also need to incorporate better choices into your food diary, regulate stress levels, and ensure you are able to dedicate efforts towards adequate recovery.


Don't worry if the above paragraph makes you second guess your current routine- sentiments like that have been felt by others like you and ETG LIVE has got all your bases covered when it comes to building a sustainable lifestyle that will get you the results you want...for forever.


Essentially, it boils down to your sweet spot; engaging in forms of exercise that challenge your muscular strength/endurance in an environment where you can focus, calmly, on the task at hand. This can be one dedicated strength session per week, or you can perform smaller bouts of exercise in more frequent intervals to your week (Nuzzo et al, 2024).


This doesn't apply to just strength training either. This also applies to outlets such as walking outdoors, pilates, low impact interval training, and vinyasa yoga.


I thought exercise raises cortisol levels, isn't that bad if I have IBS?

Yes, exercise raises cortisol levels. However, if you're an avid reader here, you know that your body is built for responding to stress. Your body is built to recognize stress, respond to it, and then return to a homeostatic state. Your body is not built to constantly be armed and ready to address extreme stressors- which is where it can be tricky to find your sweet spot. When dealing with a condition like IBS (a condition that can't be formally diagnosed with testing, as of yet), managing stress levels is integral to managing the condition and minimizing potential for a flare up to occur.


If you're a high performing creative, you're more than likely operating in a higher-than-usual stress threshold in order to do the job you need to do. It comes with the territory. However, engaging in strenuous forms of exercise won't do you any favors. In fact, you should opt for traditional strength training in the gym, incorporating outdoor low-impact walking, and lower intensity exercise classes. All of these forms of exercise stimulate beneficial blood flow around the digestive tract, encourage your muscles to use the glucose in your bloodstream, and clear your head.


You're looking to enhance your response to cortisol and stress, not compete with it.

 

What should you take away from this?

Being a novice to exercise variety is absolutely ok, and understanding the benefits of approaching your exercise routine from a functional point of view has more benefits than just injury prevention- functional fitness can improve your digestion, help you manage stress better, and give you more confidence in your midsection for the long run.


If you're reading this post, and want to find your functional fitness sweet spot for yourself, I highly recommend you check out Empowered To Go LIVE. It's a twelve week programme designed to give you your health back through five proven pillars that stop you from sacrificing your self for your success.



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