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Expert Tips on Gut Health: Signs to Spot and How Exercise and Foods Can Improve Them

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Maintaining a healthy gut is essential for overall well-being, yet it’s an aspect of our health that often gets overlooked.

Our gut plays a vital role in our body’s function, with a balanced and thriving microbiome being essential for digestion, nutrient absorption, immune function, and even mental health.

man with healthy foods

Dean Zweck, Product Development Manager at Total Fitness, the leading health club brand across the North of England and Wales, shares a variety of key symptoms to look out for and practical tips on how to improve your gut health.

Listen to Your Gut

Gut health is crucial because it’s linked to digestion and ensures that essential nutrients are being absorbed, providing your body with energy to keep it functioning.

So, keeping it in good shape makes a big difference in how you feel. If you feel a little off at times, it could be your gut trying to tell you something. We’ve shared the most common signs to look out for and what they might mean for your gut:

Digestive Issues

If you often feel bloated, and gassy, or find going to the toilet a problem, it could be a sign that something’s not quite right in your gut.

Conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) arise from issues in our gastrointestinal tract, and it might mean your gut bacteria balance is off or that you’re not digesting certain foods well.

Food Intolerances

Do certain foods make you feel uncomfortable or unwell? This could be a sign that you have a sensitivity to certain foods, meaning your gut microbiota could be imbalanced.

It might be a lactose intolerance, gluten sensitivity, or another type of food intolerance that your gut is struggling to handle.

If you’re unsure, try cutting certain foods out to understand how they make you feel.

Mood Changes

Believe it or not, your gut health can affect your mood. If you’re feeling more anxious or down than usual, it might be because of your gut.

Your gut and brain communicate through a network called the gut-brain axis, transmitting hormones that contribute to mood regulation, so an imbalance in your gut can affect your mood.

Skin Issues

The gut and skin are connected through the gut-skin axis. When your gut is unhealthy, it can cause inflammation and imbalances which can show up on your skin as acne, eczema, or even dull skin.

Low Energy

Feeling tired all the time, even when you’re getting enough sleep? Your gut might be to blame. Your gut absorbs nutrients from food to provide your body with energy.

If your gut isn’t healthy, it may not be able to absorb nutrients properly due to imbalances in the bacteria or gut-brain communication, which can leave you feeling low on energy.

Sugar Cravings

Craving sugary foods more often than usual? It could be your gut bacteria sending signals to your brain, asking for more sugar to feed on.

This can create a cycle where you crave more sugar, which can then disrupt your gut even further and trigger inflammation.

By promoting a healthy gut through a balanced diet and lifestyle habits, you should be able to reduce those cravings.

Remember, everyone’s gut is unique, so what works for one person might not work for another. If you notice any of these signs, it might be worth paying extra attention to what you’re eating and how it makes you feel.

If you’re concerned about your gut health, it’s always best to talk to your GP for further guidance.

Foods to Nourish Your Gut

Here’s a list of foods you should incorporate into your diet to ensure your microbiome receives the essential nutrients it needs to function:

Yoghurt

Yoghurt is packed full of live cultures of beneficial bacteria, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.

These probiotic bacteria can help restore and maintain a healthy gut. Look for yoghurts labelled ‘containing live and active cultures’.

Kefir

A type of fermented milk, kefir is rich in probiotics. It contains a wider variety of beneficial bacteria and yeast strains than yoghurt, making it an excellent option for promoting gut health. Kefir is also a good source of calcium, protein, and other essential nutrients.

Fibre-Rich Foods

Fibre is essential for gut health as it serves as fuel for positive bacteria in the gut. Consuming a variety of fibre-rich foods can promote the growth of a diverse range of microbes.

Some examples of fibre-rich foods include apples, berries, bananas, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, oats, barley, quinoa, beans, lentils, chickpeas, and a range of nuts and seeds.

A great way to keep track is ensuring you ‘eat the rainbow’ and incorporate a wide variety of plant-based foods to help protect your gut from inflammation.

Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is a fermented cabbage side dish that is rich in probiotics and enzymes that support digestive health.

It contains beneficial bacteria, including Lactobacillus, which can help improve gut flora and enhance digestion.

When choosing sauerkraut, opt for ones labelled ‘unpasteurised’ to ensure they contain live cultures.

Exercise and Our Gut Health

Exercise can have a wide range of positive effects on our gut health, primarily through its influence on gut movement, microbial diversity, and stress management. Here’s how exercise can elevate gut issues:

Increased Microbiome Diversity

Research suggests that exercise can positively influence the composition and diversity of the gut microbiome.

Regular physical activity has been associated with a more diverse array of beneficial bacteria in the gut, which is linked to better overall gut health and reduced inflammation.

Reduced Inflammation

Exercise has anti-inflammatory effects throughout the body, including in the gut. By reducing systemic inflammation, exercise can help protect the intestinal barrier and lower the risk of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) such as Crohn’s.

Balanced Stress

Exercise is known to reduce stress levels and improve our mental well-being. Stress, especially chronic stress, can impact our gut health due to the gut-brain connection, with symptoms appearing through cramps, nausea, and heartburn.

By managing stress through exercise, you’ll be able to support your gut’s health.

Weight Management

Physical activity can help regulate our appetite and metabolism, which can indirectly impact gut health.

Maintaining a healthy weight through exercise can reduce the risk of obesity-related gut issues and metabolic disorders.

Enhanced Blood Flow to the Gut

Exercise increases blood flow to various organs, including the gastrointestinal tract. Improved blood flow ensures that the cells lining the gut receive sufficient oxygen and nutrients, supporting their function.

A healthy gut is a cornerstone of overall health. By paying attention to signs from your gut and incorporating gut-friendly foods and regular exercise into your routine, you can support and enhance your gut health.

Remember, if you have concerns about your gut health, consulting with a healthcare professional is always the best course of action.