Regular exercise and physical activity help with cardiovascular health, improved mood, better management of chronic conditions, and can help digestion. For individuals with any GI distress or inflammatory bowel disease that has caused digestive enzyme deficiencies, exercise, and physical movement have been found to provide digestive aid. Here we look at activities to help digestion.
Table of Contents
Exercises To Help Digestion
When exercising the body, the cardiac output/volume of blood the heart pumps every minute increases as the demand for oxygenated blood throughout the body increases, particularly in the working muscles. During exercise, the same increase in blood circulation happens within the digestive system’s muscle groups. The blood flow to digestive organs causes peristalsis, which is involuntary constriction and relaxation of the muscles in the digestive tract. This process helps move food efficiently through the gastrointestinal tract. Exercise supports the growth of beneficial gut bacteria to maintain a healthy digestive system.
- Exercise helps relieves stress which means lower amounts of cortisol.
- Research has found that elevated cortisol levels are associated with compromised digestive function.
- Chronic cortisol production can cause:
- Increased intestinal permeability.
- Impaired absorption of micronutrients.
- Abdominal pain or discomfort.
Types of Exercise
- Sticking to moderate-intensity workouts supports a healthy gut microbiome and reduces inflammation.
- Whereas high-intensity exercise sends blood away from the core and toward the extremities to power the muscles, which does not help digestion.
- High-intensity exercise may trigger an inflammatory response, leading to abdominal pain or discomfort, diarrhea, and cramps.
Moderate-intensity exercise activities to try include:
- Yoga is a great stress reduction tool, helping to reduce inflammation that can lead to various gut issues, including constipation and stomach pain.
- Left untreated, chronic inflammation can cause inflammatory bowel disease symptoms to flare.
- Yoga places mild pressure on the digestive organs in certain positions, which can help digestion.
- Walking 30 to 40 minutes three to four times a week can make a digestive difference.
- Walking stimulates blood flow to the intestinal muscles, which helps activate the lymphatic system.
- The gut’s lymphatic system helps to absorb and transport lipids and other nutrients throughout the body during digestion.
- The system activates through walking or manual lymphatic massage can improve constipation.
- Tai chi has been shown to improve immune function and inflammation of the gut and is a helpful tool for maintaining homeostasis/gut balance.
- This is a form of moderate-intensity exercise and meditative practice.
- The emphasis is on slow controlled movements and deep breathing.
- This makes it recommended for individuals looking to improve digestion and those with gastrointestinal conditions.
- Pilates is the practice that targets abdominal muscles and utilizes diaphragmatic breathing to help individuals perform a series of movements to strengthen and elongate the body’s muscles.
- Individuals who perform this exercise often report relief from bloating and gas.
- Exercises like rolling like a ball or the swan dive are great for the digestive organs.
Whether new to exercise or returning, a plan can help you get there. Meeting with a fitness trainer or sports chiropractor is a great place to begin if you have limited knowledge about what works best for your body and schedule.
- A certified trainer can help guide you toward an achievable program that focuses on gut health.
- Individuals with a GI disorder should talk with their doctors before starting a new exercise plan.
- This does not mean you can’t do intense exercises like running; you’ll want to work with a doctor to set up a program that doesn’t cause flare-ups.
- Aim for roughly three hours of moderate-intensity weekly exercise to support a healthy digestive system.
- Sit less and move more.
- Do at least two or more muscle-strengthening activities of moderate intensity every week.
- An anti-inflammatory diet may aid digestion.
Benefits of Stretching
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Drouin, Jacqueline S et al. “Comparisons between Manual Lymph Drainage, Abdominal Massage, and Electrical Stimulation on Functional Constipation Outcomes: A Randomized, Controlled Trial.” International Journal of environmental research and public health vol. 17,11 3924. June 1. 2020, doi:10.3390/ijerph17113924
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Singhal, Rashi, and Yatrik M Shah. “Oxygen battle in the gut: Hypoxia and hypoxia-inducible factors in metabolic and inflammatory responses in the intestine.” The Journal of biological chemistry vol. 295,30 (2020): 10493-10505. doi:10.1074/jbc.REV120.011188
van Wijck, Kim, et al. “Physiology and pathophysiology of splanchnic hypoperfusion and intestinal injury during exercise: strategies for evaluation and prevention.” American Journal of Physiology. Gastrointestinal and liver physiology vol. 303,2 (2012): G155-68. doi:10.1152/ajpgi.00066.2012
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