Extreme Forms Of Exercise Can Compromise Gut Function

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Along with a well-balanced diet rich in proteins, fat, and plenty of dark, leafy vegetables, exercise is seen as the key to staying healthy. While there’s no doubt that being active is far more beneficial to your overall wellbeing than staying glued to the couch, over-exertion is shown to be just as harmful.

High-intensity exercise can lead to chronic problems in the gut say researchers from the University of Victoria in Australia. A systemic review published in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics suggests that exercise intensity is linked to gastric emptying rate and intestinal transit. People who engage in strenuous physical activity (upwards of 70% of their energy) were found to have the most severe disruption to their gastric motility than those who participated in moderate exercise (60-70% of peak power output)

“Understanding the effect of prolonged strenuous exercise on gastrointestinal motility is important since the consumption of foods/fluids during exercise aids in the maintenance of blood glucose concentration and euhydration, aimed at attenuating fatigue and enhancing exercise performance,” said Ricardo J.S. Costa, MD, of Monash University, who led the research.

Researchers reviewed publications that examined the effect of acute exercise on the gastrointestinal system, taken from five medical databases, PubMed, EBSCO, Web of Science, SPORTSdiscus, and Ovid Medline. They discovered that as exercise intensity and duration increased, so did incidences of injury.

“Despite excessive exercise being confirmed to compromise gut integrity and function, we have identified several exacerbating factors which can be controlled, and several prevention and management strategies that can attenuate and abolish the damage and compromised function,” he added.

Those factors, which can affect a person’s likelihood of suffering this type of gut damage, are:

  • type of exercise
  • duration
  • being female
  • hot ambient conditions
  • and eating during exercise

Just last month, researchers also discovered that bouts of intense, high-endurance exercise directly damages gut microbiota – the bacteria housed in the gastrointestinal tract. Not only can the environment in the gut directly impact the function of the upper and lower GI, gut bacteria also affects insulin resistance, rheumatoid arthritis and fatigue.

Costa and his team recommend low to moderate physical activity for those who suffer gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome or bowel disease.

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