Why looking after your digestive system is more important than you might think – and how exercise can help
The role of the digestive system is to break down (or digest) our food, eliminate toxins and absorb the energy and other key nutrients our bodies need to function well. But it’s important in other ways too.
For one thing, about 70% of the body’s immune system resides in the gut. So if our gut health is compromised (by eating a bad diet, smoking or stress for example), so is that of our immune system, leaving us at increased risk of a wide range of conditions. According to research, these could include: autoimmune conditions such as coeliac disease, colds and flu, type 1 diabetes, obesity, skin conditions such as eczema, chronic fatigue and even cancer.
For more on how to have a healthier gut, check out our article Diet tips for a healthy bowel and digestive system.
Gut health also plays an important role in how our mind functions and how happy we feel. If our gut health is under par, our mental wellbeing can also suffer.
So it’s not just about preventing digestive disorders such as constipation, bloating and wind – our digestive health really is central to our overall wellbeing. The good news is that there are simple things we can all do to help support good gut health.
Making sure we eat and drink the right things is obviously important. How we move our bodies also affects our digestion. For one thing it helps stimulate the gut and increases intestinal activity. Physical activity increases blood flow to the muscles in the digestive system, which massage our food along the digestive tract – a process known as peristalsis – causing them to work more quickly and effectively.
Research also suggests that exercise affects the balance of bacteria in the gut. This gut flora as it’s known plays an active role in protecting our immune system, preventing the growth of bad bacteria and helping the body digest and absorb what it needs from the foods we eat.
Health and Wellbeing Programme Manager, Sarah Kemp offers up some top tips for keeping your gut functioning well, and suggests a special set of moves to try to help boost your digestive health.