Usually when you're experiencing digestion discomfort, your first thought is to go over what you ate earlier in the day to see what caused, you know, whatever it is you're feeling in there. However, what you may not know is that your gut health can also be directly affected by your workout routine. Pretty wild huh?
"With intense exercise, inflammation is a byproduct, and your body's attempt to mitigate this inflammation contributes not only to increases in performance, but boosting the immune system," says Liz Barnet, certified health coach and trainer. Basically, if you're feeling icky and you just finished a four-day bender of nonstop squats, that quad work might be to blame.
Before you start canceling all your gym memberships, there's totally a solution. We teamed up with RenewLife®—creators of the gut-boosting women's probiotic supplement—and asked two gut-health experts to delve deeper into the exercises that can help aid digestion, rather than the other way around.
Don't go overboard on high-intensity workouts
This is officially your get-out-of-cardio-day free card. Okay, not quite—but treating your body with care is key. "It might be worth laying off the high-intensity exercises, particularly anything involving a lot of jumping or impact, as this can disturb the digestive system and cause nausea," Barnet says. She also recommends staying away from heated environments (like hot yoga) when dealing with gut issues, as it can cause fluid-balance issues.
Not all experts believe you should quit your HIIT exercises all-together, though. "Many of the studies that show a correlation between exercise and gut health used max oxygen uptake as the indicator of physical fitness," Nora Minno, RD and Daily Burn trainer says. "Therefore, cardio and aerobic workouts like HIIT would be recommended for improving gut health." It's all about finding what feels best to you—including your go-to probiotic that'll also help out along your journey towards a balanced gut.
Add in more days of low intensity workouts into your routine
"Low intensity exercise can also positively affect the gastro-intestinal tract by reducing transient stool time (help you pass a bowel movement more quickly than if you were sedentary) and thus [potentially] reduce the risk of colon cancer, diverticulosis, and inflammatory bowel disease," Minno says.
Plus, when you slow down and think about the type of workout you're about to do with intention, it sets you up for a more mindful experience throughout. "Non-heated yoga is a great option, as mindfulness and breath work improves the parasympathetic nervous system, which positively impacts the gut," Barnet says. "And don't underestimate the power of a good long walk!" So roll out the yoga mat or lace up your sneakers.
Focus on strength training the next time you're at the gym
Endorphins come from all types of exercise—even hitting the free weights. "Traditional strength training is a great idea for so many reasons, gut health being one of them," Barnet adds. "Although you may love hitting up your favorite high-intensity group class, this may also be the time for solo gym workouts, so you can be in control of your pace and intensity."
For people who are experiencing digestion discomfort, Barnet's suggestion for a week of workouts is two days of resistance training with weights, two days of yoga, and a longer hike over the weekend (and this is meant as a suggestion, so you can curate it to your needs).
Plus, if you add in a daily probiotic supplement like Renew Life®'s Ultimate Flora Care Probiotic 25 Billion (that is formulated for women), your gut will be living on cloud nine in no time. Ultimately, the best thing to do is listen to your body—and never underestimate the power of a recovery day.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.