This Is What a Week of Workouts Should Look Like If You Want to Optimize Your Gut Health

Like your bestie who makes you laugh until you cry, you’d do anything for your gut. But even if you're down to pop a probiotic in the morning, sip kombucha in the afternoon, and avoid certain inflammatory foods at dinner, you might be missing a major part of the all-day gut-health equation.

Check out this stat: “A recent study, in which participants worked out for 30 minutes, three days a week, for six weeks straight, showed that many participants experienced an increase in certain microbes in the gut that help reduce the risk of inflammatory diseases as well as type II diabetes,” says Nora Minno, RD and Daily Burn trainer.

The trick is, you need to do the right type of exercise to grab those endorphins with a side of gut-healthy benefits—otherwise you could actually end up hurting your microbiome situation more than helping it.

Confused? To figure out where, exactly, the right exercise balance is, we teamed up with RenewLife®—makers of the cult-favorite women's probiotic supplement—and asked two gut pros for simple strategies for optimizing your digestion with exercise. After all, keeping your gut happy and balanced (ahem, daily probiotics) helps you reap the feel-good benefits. 

Keep reading for 3 tips for how to exercise for digestive health from gut health pros.

Gut health benefits of exercise
Photo: Unsplash/Brooke Cagle

1. Opt for low intensity and low impact work

If gut health is one of your top wellness goals or if you’re dealing with GI issues, mix easy-on-the-body modalities into your workout schedule. Why? High-intensity circuits aren’t just hard on your hamstrings and quads, they’re tough on your gut.

Certified personal trainer and food coach, Liz Barnet, explains it like this, “During a high intensity workout, on a mechanical level, blood flow is shifted from your digestive tract to your muscles in order to power you through.” That means, as the sweat starts to pour down your face while you’re crushing burpees, your digestive system is slowing down, which can cause problems after your workout is over.

“Traditional strength training is a great idea for so many reasons, gut health being one of them.”

If a slow digestive system becomes a persistent issue for you (read: constipation), low-intensity exercise—alongside your favorite digestion-aiding probiotic—can help get things going again. "Low intensity exercise can positively affect the gastro-intestinal tract by reducing transient stool time (i.e. help you pass a bowel movement more quickly than if you were sedentary)," Minno says.

Instead of doing heart-pumping sets for an hour, you try something like lifting weights at your own pace. “Traditional strength training is a great idea for so many reasons, gut health being one of them,” Barnet says. Or enjoy a podcast on a long walk. “Bonus points if you can get out in nature, which is a known stress reliever,” she says.

gut health benefits of exercise
Photo: Unsplash/ Luis Quintero

2. But don't skip HIIT entirely

Other than the energy and mood boost, high-intensity work can have major gut-health boosts—that is, when you’re not experiencing GI problems.

A heart-pumping set of burpees, squats, and box jumps can cause inflammation, which is why too much HIIT can be problematic for people with gut issues. But if you're already taking a high-quality probiotic, a little bit of inflammation can actually be beneficial.

“Your body’s attempt to mitigate this inflammation contributes not only to increases in performance, but boosting the immune system,” Barnet explains. “Keep in mind that 80 percent of your immune system is found in the digestive tract; it’s not hard to make the correlation how this might have an affect on your gut microbiome.”

gut health benefits of exercise
Photo: Unsplash/ Form

3. Bring mindfulness into your workouts—no matter how you exercise

To recap, we're supposed to dial down the intensity (but not completely stop exercising), and sometimes still do HIIT (just not too much). So how exactly does that translate to a week of workouts?

Barnet's ideal program (the Goldilocks of workout routines, if you will) for someone looking to optimize their gut health is two days of resistance training, two days of yoga, and a long hike on the weekend. Throw in a daily probiotic supplement like Renew Life's Ultimate Flora Women's Care Probiotic 25 Billion (which packs high culture counts and multiple probiotic strains) to get your gut health bac (get it?) on track.

"Make sure you are looking forward to your workouts and not dreading them, as stress will exacerbate GI problems.”

Then, invite mindfulness into your exercise routine to help you keep tabs on whether it's working, and whether your gut can tolerate introducing more days of higher intensity exercise.

Above all, for Barnet, gut-health-focused fitness is all about a positive mindset. “If you’re experiencing gut issues, make sure you are looking forward to your workouts and not dreading them, as stress will exacerbate GI problems,” Barnet says. Consider this your science-rooted excuse to only do the workouts you love (and to skip the ones you don't).

In partnership with Renew Life®

Top photo: Getty Images

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