How Exercise Can Improve Your Gut And Insulin Sensitivity

Your digestive tract is home to trillions of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other microorganisms that form the gut microbiome. Think of the gut microbiome as a "virtual organ of the body," says a 2018 research paper published in the BMJ. Some of these microorganisms support health and well-being, while others can contribute to disease. Gut microbiome composition depends on a multitude of factors, including your diet, genetics, lifestyle habits, and environment. Physical activity plays a role, too.

The microbes living in your gut regulate digestion, immune function, insulin sensitivity, metabolism, and other processes. These microorganisms also influence body weight and can increase or reduce obesity risk, notes the BMJ. Moreover, clinical evidence indicates a potential link between microbiota diversity and certain diseases, such as eczema, arthritis, and diabetes. For example, researchers found that gut microbiota affects insulin production, gastric emptying, appetite, and glucose metabolism. Therefore, it has a direct impact on glycemic control, according to 2019 research published in the journal Frontiers in Endocrinology.

A diet rich in probiotics may balance the gut flora, protecting against diabetes, notes the above review. Not surprisingly, regular exercise has similar benefits. "Although our understanding of how exercise affects the body remains incomplete, some of the many factors that might trigger responses from the gut microbiome include changes in blood flow, circulating hormones, and intestinal motility," pediatric gastroenterologist Geoffrey Preidis told Healthline

Exercise, insulin sensitivity, and gut health are strongly connected

Most people associate exercise with fat loss or muscle building, but few are aware of its role in gut health. As it turns out, physical activity can improve the gut microbiome and insulin response — not just body composition. In a 2021 study published in the journal Obesity, researchers asked 14 people to exercise two to four times a week under clinical supervision. After eight weeks, subjects experienced significant improvements in body composition and insulin sensitivity. Regular exercise also produces small but important changes in gut microbiota composition, note the researchers.

Other studies had similar results. For example, research shows that exercise can increase gut microbial diversity and reduce inflammation, explains a 2021 review featured in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition. 

There's no need to spend hours in the gym to reap these benefits. What matters most is to make exercise a habit. If you're short on time, split your workout into 10- to 15-minute sessions. For best results, combine exercise with a balanced diet that supports gut health.