How does exercise affect your microbiota?

What impact does exercise have on your microbiota (gut bacteria)? Exercise might regulate the immune system in your gut allowing healthy bacteria to grow.

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How does exercise affect your microbiota?

Dr. Michael Ruscio: What effect does exercise have on your microbiota? Hi, this is Dr. Ruscio. You’ve likely heard something about the microbiota or the gut microbiota. If you haven’t, really briefly the microbiota is this world of bacteria that live in our guts, and in many other cavitities and surfaces of our body, that we are discovering have a immense impact on our health and our overall well being.

It’s an issue that I track very, very closely, and we are even in the process of performing some clinical research on. So, it’s something that I have a high level of familiarity with, and something I’m very excited about. And also, unfortunately because it’s an area of interest right now, there is quite a bit of hype also circulating along with it. I am writing a piece to help people discern what’s hype from something practical. And the exercise impact on your microbiota is a practical one. This is why I really am very excited about this.

One of the things that it’s important to do is have a what we call healthy microbiota – having a good, healthy, diverse array of bacteria in your gut, perform any positive functions for us, and therefore, help to keep us healthy. However, sometimes the approaches advocated for maintaining a healthy microbiota are a bit out-there –  they are a bit excessive, and there is sometimes no real clinical research to show any correlative benefit. So, when I can find something practical, then that is something I really think there is a lot of value in.

So, what effect does exercise have on your microbiota? Well, there is still some that we have here to learn, but there are a few preliminary findings that I think make a whole lot of sense. So, we know that when people exercise excessively, it causes immunosuppression. You can have a higher chance of having the flu, or a cold, or getting sick, or having an infection. So, exercise is a little bit immunosuppressing. Now, if the dose of the exercise is excessive, that can be such a high dose that it causes a negative reaction. However, because…I should say, if we use exercise in an appropriate dose, we can have a small amount of immunosuppression, which may actually be healthy. The other end of of the immunosuppression would be overly aggressive immune function that can potentially cause an autoummune attack or cause high levels of inflammation, which is something we want to protect against.

A paper was published recently – I will put a link for the paper here Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source and a quick screen overlay – that showed that exercise impacts these things called TLRs, or toll-like receptors. These have an immune impact in the gut, It seems like exercise down-regulates these toll-like receptors, and therefore has this positive impact on your immune system – or it prevents your immune system from becoming overly aggressive, causing inflammation, and eventually, autoimmunity.

That’s a mechanism study, and I really dislike only citing mechanism studies and not tying that in with something practical, like some sort of clinical trial or some sort of human observational study, at least. So, I’ve put in another link here Trusted SourcePubMedGo to source to a human observational study () where they found that athletes actually had a more diverse microbiota than non-athletes. There conclusion from this paper – albeit, still a preliminary one – was that exercise is healthy for your microbiota. The diets weren’t terribly different, so it doesn’t appear that the diet made a big impact. Actually, the athletes ate more protein, which is classically not known to feed your microbiota. So, it’s very likely that the diet did not have an impact on the study, and it was just the fact that these elite athletes compared to other healthy controls were exercising more, and that was having a beneficial impact on their mictobiota.

This brings us to one of my overall posits I am starting to formulate as I have looked through an immense amount of the literature on the microbiota, fact checked, and tried to really come away with with the truth is regarding the microbiota. I think what we are going to start to find is that the environment is a very, very powerful imput into your microbiota. The things that you can do that will make you healthy – like exercise, eating a healthy diet, and manage your stress are going to have a favorable impact on your microbiota. So, while the microbiota is very important, one of the best ways, potentially, in my initial inclanation here is to think that one of the best ways to keep (your microbiota) healthy would be to keep yourself healthy.

In this case, at least from some of these preliminary findings, is shown to have a possitive impact on your microbiota as long as the exercise is not excessive. If the exercise is excessive, then I would speculate you may be at higher risks for infections in your microbiota because you’ve suppressed your immune system too much. A little bit of immunosuppression can be good thing – it can prevent you from having an overzealous  immune system and having high levels of inflammation. But, an excessive does can cause immunosuppression and subsequent infection.

Anyway, this is Dr. Ruscio. Hope this information helps you get healthy and back to your life.

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What do you think? I would like to hear your thoughts or experience with this?


I care about answering your questions and sharing my knowledge with you. Leave a comment or connect with me on social media asking any health question you may have and I just might incorporate it into our next listener questions podcast episode just for you!

4 thoughts on “How does exercise affect your microbiota?

  1. I would be interested to know what would constitute excessive exercise for an average person? From your findings what would constitute the best amount of exercise for a healthy microbiome?

  2. I would be interested to know what would constitute excessive exercise for an average person? From your findings what would constitute the best amount of exercise for a healthy microbiome?

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