Keeping active

Taylor Clark, Physiologist at AXA Health

Exercises to improve digestion

18 July 2023

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.

Taylor Clark, Physiologist at AXA Health, offers up some top tips for keeping your digestive system functioning well, and outlines which exercises can help boost your digestive health.

Our immune system

70% of the body’s immune system resides in the gut. So if our gut health is compromised, for example by:

  • eating a bad diet
  • smoking
  • or stress

so can our immune system. As a result, this can leave us with an increased risk of a wide range of conditions.

According to research1, 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 How to have a healthy gut 

Gut health on mental wellbeing

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 but how we move our bodies also affects our digestion. For one thing it helps stimulate the gut and increases intestinal activity.

Exercise for gut health

Physical activity increases blood flow to the muscles in the digestive system, which massages 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 gut2. 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.

Top tips for better digestion

Tip 1: Eat well for good digestion

Eating a healthy, balanced diet is key for maintaining our overall health and wellbeing. When it comes to aiding digestion and bowel health, fibre plays a particularly important role by keeping everything moving through the digestive system.

>Try our Quinoa, Tofu and Vegetable Stir Fry recipe 

Getting your 5-a-day not only delivers fibre but also antioxidants, which help to delay or prevent cell damage. Meanwhile try to avoid or reduce your intake of red and processed meats as there is strong evidence that eating a lot of these increases your risk of bowel cancer.

Tip 2: Drink for digestion

We should be drinking around 6-8 glasses of water a day in order to stay hydrated. Drinking a glass of water after every meal or snack counts towards this goal and also helps flush out toxins and aid digestion. 

Tip 3: Walk for good digestion

After a light meal or a snack, go for a brisk walk (after a heavy meal, wait an hour before setting off).

By walking, you will improve your metabolism, as well as giving your digestive system a kick-start. Note that it’s important to stick to walking and avoid any high-impact activities, such as trampolining or running.

Tip 4: Reduce stress

Stress can weaken your body's resistance, immune system and digestive performance, which can leave your feeling tired, bloated and lacking in energy.

A good way of beating stress is to ensure that you’re doing some form of exercise on a regular basis.

>Read more on Does exercise lower blood pressure? 

Tip 5: Avoid rigorous aerobic exercise

While digestion is taking place, it is important to avoid certain types of high-impact exercise, such as:

  • running,
  • kick boxing,
  • trampolining,
  • dancing and team sports.

These exercises can upset the digestive system and cause discomfort and stitches, so stick to walking and other low-impact physical activities.

Digestive exercises routine: the Super 3

Peristalsis is the involuntary muscle movement in the gut that helps us digest food by massaging it along the digestive tract. This specially designed exercise routine helps boost your digestion by assisting this process.

You can perform the routine straight after a light meal or snack but after a heavier meal, wait about 30 minutes before you begin.

It's recommended that you use an exercise mat or towel when performing the exercises to protect your knees while you’re kneeling. 

Exercise 1

This exercise is fine to do after a small meal or snack. It’s important that you don’t rush it, so focus on performing the movement in a slow and controlled manner.

Come down onto all fours and place your hands flat on the floor directly under your shoulders. Your knees should be directly under your hips. Ensure your spine is straight.

Exercise 1 image1.PNG

Very slowly, extend your right arm so it's in line with your shoulder. At the same time, lift your left leg so your heel is in line with your hips. Aim to create a straight line from your right arm all the way through to your left foot.

Exercise 1 image2.PNG

Hold this position for a second, then very slowly start to draw in your right arm and left knee until you’re back to the starting position.

Exercise 1 image3.PNG

From here drop your head and tail bone and allow your back to arch as if you’re being pulled up by a belt. Hold this for a second then, on the same leg and arm, repeat for a minimum of ten times. Rest and repeat on the other side.

Exercise 1 image4.PNG

Once you’ve completed this routine, follow straight on to the stretching exercises. These will help reduce any feelings of bloating and at the same time help to massage the stomach muscles, aiding the peristalsis process. 

Exercise 2

Turn over, so you’re now lying on your back on your mat or towel.

Simply bend both of your knees into your chest and hug them for a few seconds.

Exercise 2 image1.PNG

Now, very slowly, extend one leg out straight while still hugging the other knee. Then draw the straight leg back in and switch.

Exercise 2 image2.PNG

Your head and shoulders should remain on the floor throughout this exercise. Repeat 10 times.

Exercise 2 image3.PNG

Exercise 3

Finish off by taking both feet back down to the floor and slowly lengthening your legs straight out on the ground so you’re lying flat with arms by your side.

Exercise 3 image1.PNG

Slowly extend your arms out to the side and up past your head, keeping them in contact with the floor throughout the movement.

Exercise 3 image2.PNG

Now stretch, making yourself as long as possible. This releases any pressure in the gut. Hold this stretch for 10-20 seconds.

Exercise 3 image3.PNG

And that’s all there is to it! 

Visit our exercise and fitness centre for more information and inspiration to get you moving more.


  1. How Your Gut Microbiome Impacts Your Health - Cleveland Clinic 
  2. How endurance exercise affects your gut bacteria - Medical News Today
  3. Red meat and the risk of bowel cancer - NHS

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