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Brain Food: Exercise and Gut Bacteria

Dierdra Bycura

Regular exercise is good for a lot of things: strengthening muscles, decreasing body fat, even helping us sleep better. Now, new research shows it’s also good for the trillions of micro-organisms in our intestines, which have a profound effect on other systems in our bodies. 

At the Health Sciences Fitness Assessment and Sport Training Lab at Northern Arizona University, exercise physiologist Dierdra Bycura is running a study on 36 participants involved in an eight-week exercise program.

Credit Dierdra Bycura
Researchers at NAU's Health Sciences Fitness Assessment and Sport Training Lab test the effects of exercise on human gut bacteria.

“What we’re seeing is that there are microbial content that is reducing inflammation in the body as a result of participating in exercise, and this has important implications for inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, or lupus, autoimmune diseases such as that: allergies, arthritis—things that really impact health of many people,” she says.

The participants’ gut bacteria and fungi is examined before and after they exercise. Bycura says she’s expecting an increase in their short-chain fatty acids, which serve as an energy source for a variety of tissues in the body and affect insulin sensitivity.

“This has important implications for overall health and possible use of exercise as a means for improving gut health in persons with health challenges such as diabetes or inflammatory bowel disease, or something of the sort,” she says.

Bycura says the microbial benefits continue as long as people continue exercising. Next, she wants to study the impacts of weight training, Pilates, yoga and meditation on the workings of the human gut.

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