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Keeping active relieves stress and helps maintain a healthy weight two things that can affect digestion. It also helps relieve digestive complaints, such as constipation and bloating, and allows your body to absorb nutrients more effectively.
Our digestive system is responsible for breaking down food and providing energy to the rest of the body.
Food is moved through the digestive system by a mechanism called peristalsis, where two sets of muscles in the walls of the gut contract and propel food along.
Digestion time - which starts from when you've eaten to when the waste is excreted - varies for all of us, although it is slower in women than men. Some research suggests that it takes on average 33 hours for men and 47 hours for women.
As well as stress and an unhealthy diet, a sedentary lifestyle can lead to a whole range of digestive disorders, such as constipation, bloating, and wind.
Regular physical activity stimulates the gut, whilst increasing intestinal activity, so digestive problems are prevented. It increases blood flow to all your muscles, and this keeps the muscles in the digestive system moving, allowing food to pass through it much quicker, even when you're resting.
Because exercise can help ease stress, it may be beneficial for those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). A study, published by The American Journal of Gastroenterology,1 found that physical activity improves symptoms of IBS. It also decreases the risk of gallstones forming. Being overweight increases the risk of developing gallstones as it raises the amount of cholesterol in bile, which in turn increases the risk of gallstones.
New research suggests exercise can even affect the balance of bacteria in your gut, which is home to more than 100 trillion types of friendly bacteria. This gut flora plays an active role in protecting our immune system, the body's natural defence that keeps us healthy. It also inhibits the growth of more harmful bacteria, and helps to digest food and absorb essential nutrients.
A study, published in the journal Gut found that exercise enhanced the diversity of microbes in the gut.2
The good news is that anyone can do simple exercises every day to improve their gut health. Here are our top tips to ensure your digestive system is running smoothly:
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Jo Waters is a health writer who has contributed to a variety of newspapers and magazines including the Daily Mail, Mirror, Nurture Magazine and the Express.
See more of Jo Waters' work.
Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible, supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.
1Physical Activity Improves Symptoms in Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Randomized Controlled Trial, The American Journal of Gastroenterology
2Clarke S et al. (2013). Exercise and associated dietary extremes impact on gut microbial diversity, Gut
3Shahabi L et al. (2015). Self-regulation evaluation of therapeutic yoga and walking for patients with irritable bowel syndrome: a pilot study, Psychology, Health, and Medicine
4Eherer A at al. (2012). Positive effect of abdominal breathing exercise on gastroesophageal reflux disease: a randomized, controlled study, The American Journal of Gastroenterology
5Moses F (1990). The effect of exercise on the gastrointestinal tract, Sports Medicine