Exercise for Your Heart, Lungs and… Bacteria??

We all know that exercise is essential to good health.  And you also know that the bacteria in your gut are critically important to good health as well.

But I would be surprised if, even in your wildest physiology-based dreams, you thought that these two were somehow linked.

The benefits of exercise on human health have been extensively studied.  Benefits to your muscles, bones and brain are clear.  Lowered risks of most types of cancers.  Dramatic protection for your brain on migraines, seizures, Parkinson’s disease and Alzhemier’s dementia.

A lot of the mechanisms by which this protection happens have been ironed out.  Some of the effects are indirect (i.e. exercise causes muscles to suck more glucose out of the bloodstream, lowering the risk of diabetes) and some are direct (exercise lowers glutamate levels in the brain cells, protecting these brain cells from damage).

But, I have to admit, that this particular study finds a very indirect effect of exercise on health.  So indirect, actually, that the exercise is not really even helping our own cells.

In it, brilliant and forward-thinking researchers studied professional athletes from an international rugby union squad to see what effect intensive exercise had on the bacteria in the gut of these athletes when compared to a control group of non-athletes.  Here are a few of the important findings:

  • Overall, athletes had a higher diversity of bacteria in the gut, representing 22 distinct phyla.
  • Higher protein consumption led to more microbial diversity.
  • The athletes with a lower BMI had higher percentages of the bacteria Akkermansia when compared with the high BMI group.

Regular readers of the Rantings will know that bacterial diversity in the gut has been linked to many of the protective effects of probiotics.  We will likely never find a single bacterial strain that is the holy grail of good health.  Rather, as has been demonstrated by researchers in recent studies, it is the broad diversity of the gut that is important.

The diversity may center around a few different strains of bacteria, leaving the grouping of multiple types of bacteria as the important factor.  And these clusters will likely vary based on the health of the individual.  As an example, having an abundance of the bacteria Akkermansia muciniphilla seems to protect against obesity and the diseases associated with obesity.

In general, it likely boils down to the fact that anything that increases bacterial diversity in the gut (like exercise in this study, probiotic supplementation, breastfeeding and a good quality diet) will be good for health and anything to destroys bacterial diversity will be bad for health.

And, in case you didn’t already know, antibiotics DECIMATE bacterial diversity.

I’m just sayin’…


James Bogash

For more than a decade, Dr. Bogash has stayed current with the medical literature as it relates to physiology, disease prevention and disease management. He uses his knowledge to educate patients, the community and cyberspace on the best way to avoid and / or manage chronic diseases using lifestyle and targeted supplementation.