The human digestive tract is home to trillions of bacteria, the majority of which are good bacteria called probiotics that support healthy digestive and immune function.* While we know that factors such as stress, aging and poor diet can deplete the number of good bacteria in the gut and upset our internal balance, scientists in Ireland now believe they’ve found something that can benefit our gut bacteria: exercise.
In a recent study, a team of researchers from the University College Cork focused on three specific groups of men, the first of which was made up of 40 professional rugby players. Of the two smaller comparison groups, one consisted of men who were of the same age and build but were less physically active as the rugby players; the other was made up of men who were overweight or obese and rarely exercised. What they found was fascinating.
Not only did the rugby players have greater numbers of good bacteria in their guts, but they had a more diverse bacterial environment overall—which previous studies have linked to optimal digestion and better overall health. Another interesting finding is that the more protein the participants ate, the more diverse their gut bacteria. Not surprisingly, the total daily caloric intake for the rugby players was 22% protein but only 15-16% for the men in the comparison groups.
Dr. Fergus Shanahan, one of the researchers involved in the study, says they aren’t sure whether exercise, diet, or the right combination of both is responsible for the positive effects on gut bacteria seen in the study, but he believes the findings are promising. “The most important aspect of our study is that it draws attention to the possibility that exercise may have a beneficial effect on the microbiota colonizing the human body, and it is associated with a more diverse microbiota,” he said.
One final note: you may not need to play professional rugby to reap the benefits of a more diverse internal environment. Even the moderately active men showed a broader range of microbes than those in the least active group—so get out there and get moving!