When I'm consistently exercising my stomach and digestion feel nice and regular. What's the connection?
— Rebecca A. via email
The impact of exercise on the gastrointestinal tract and digestion has been less well investigated than the same territory for heart, muscle and skeleton. However, over the past decade good studies have clearly demonstrated positive effects on a variety of conditions. Inflammatory bowel disease and liver disease are significantly improved by exercise. The risk for colon cancer and ulcers is decreased by exercise. In addition to prevention and treatment of disease, normal function of the gastrointestinal tract improves with exercise. For instance, gastric emptying, the passage of food out of the stomach, proceeds more efficiently when exercise is part of your daily routine. Many digestive problems are associated with abnormal gastric emptying.
Another area in which exercise has a powerful positive effect on digestion relates to stress. Stress has been identified as a contributing factor to a wide spectrum of gastrointestinal disorders. And there is no better stress-reducer than exercise.
Finally, an essential function of digestion is to turn food into energy. The optimal processing of glucose, our primary fuel, cannot occur without daily physical activity. The consequences of sedentary behavior are particularly powerful with diabetes because sitting has an immediate effect on glucose metabolism. People who sit after a meal have a 24 percent higher glucose level than people who take a walk after eating. This would suggest that when you don't use your muscles (sitting), insulin sensitivity decreases immediately. Impaired insulin sensitivity has been linked to diabetes, obesity, cancer and accelerated aging.
So if you were looking for yet another reason to exercise, put good digestive health on your list.
— Paul Spector, MD, Tier 4 Coach