The Food, Exercise, and Digestion Connection
Our bodies need enough stored energy to go for a jog, but no one wants spaghetti sloshing around in their stomach when they’re bouncing on the pavement. Jogging, though, is a high-impact exercise that jostles the stomach. While you don’t want to exercise on a full stomach, you do want to exercise to help stave off digestive problems stemming from food.
Food, exercise, and digestion are closely related. The digestive system is made up of organs that help the body change food into smaller molecules of nutrients before they’re absorbed into the blood and carried to cells throughout the body. When the system malfunctions, it can result in a gastrointestinal problem.
An example is constipation, which more than 4 million Americans have, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).1Constipation is having bowel movement less than 3 times per week, and it is most commonly caused by a lack of fiber in the diet and a lack of physical activity. Thus preventing constipation can be as simple as dietary and lifestyle changes. Professionals suggest:
- Eating 20-35 grams of fiber per day, in the form of beans, fresh fruits, whole grain breads and cereals, and vegetables, like asparagus and carrots. Conversely, it is optimum to limit foods with little fiber, like ice cream, cheese, and meat.
- Exercising lightly an hour after a meal. Accelerating your breathing and heart rate helps your intestinal muscles contract, which assists in quick, fluid, and efficient bowel movements.
Another problem related to the digestive system is heartburn, the primary symptom of gastroesophageal disease (GERD), which over 60 million Americans experience, according to the National Heartburn Alliance.2 The remedies here are different than for constipation. Three exercises that can reduce heartburn symptoms are:
- Riding a bike (low-impact)
- Relaxing with yoga (stress-reducing)
- Pilates (stomach-strengthening)
There are two other important things to remember: that you should wait at least two hours after eating to exercise, and that high-impact exercise will make symptoms worse.
The benefits of exercise on the digestive system extend to everyone. In 2005, in a study of 1,800 obese men and women, researchers discovered that physical activity and a healthy diet could help obese people reduce gastrointestinal problems such as stomach pain, diarrhea, and irritable bowel syndrome.3 And a study from The Netherlands that focused on determining whether the gut is an athletic organ, stated that “adequate [athletic] training” can help prevent gastro intestinal symptoms.4
Whatever the case, exercise is always good for your digestive system—as long as you know how and when to do it.
http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov www.heartburnalliance.org Levy, Rona L., PhD, Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 2005. Brouns F, Beckers E., “Is the gut an athletic organ? Digestion, absorption and exercise.” www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
Levy, Rona L., PhD, Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 2005.
Brouns F, Beckers E., “Is the gut an athletic organ? Digestion, absorption and exercise.” www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
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