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Exercise for Better Gut Bacteria

A study from Ireland shows that exercise may help to control weight by increasing the number and types of bacteria in your intestines (Gut, published online June 9, 2014). Three groups of people were compared:
• competitive rugby athletes exercising many hours each day,
• men with normal body weight who exercised occasionally, and
• men who were overweight and did not exercise
Compared to the non-athletes, the rugby players had considerably more bacteria in their guts, more different types of bacteria, and far more of one type called Akkermansiaceae that has previously been shown to be associated with thinness and protection from inflammation. Inflammation is linked to increased risk for heart attacks, strokes and diabetes.

The study findings are important because:
• The rugby players beat up their muscles and suffer all sorts of muscle damage that causes inflammation, yet they had far less inflammation than the sedentary people. The normal-weight men who did little exercise had more inflammation than the rugby players, and those who were overweight had the highest levels of inflammation.
• The rugby players take in almost twice as many calories as the sedentary men yet they had far less fat in their bodies. The difference appears to be more than can be explained just by the calories burned in exercise. Other studies show that people with many different types of bacteria and large numbers of bacteria in their intestines are thinner and healthier, and have less diabetes or heart attacks.

Weight Gain with Aging
You gain weight by taking in more calories than you burn. When you do not take in all the calories you need, you get the extra energy from the fat stored in your body and you lose weight. When you take in more calories than your body needs, the extra calories are converted to triglycerides and are then stored in your body as fat.

Most North Americans gain weight as they age. You have two types of fat in your body: brown and white fat. The white fat is the excess fat that you store in your body to make you fat. The brown fat is a furnace that burns the white fat for energy and produces extra heat in the process. Japanese scientists have discovered that as people age, brown fat produces less heat so you burn fewer calories all day long and can gain weight even though you are not eating more than you did previously (FASEB, June 2014).

How Bacteria in Your Gut May Affect Your Weight
Exercise helps to prevent weight gain and helps people lose weight. The obvious reason is that exercise burns calories, but this recent study from Ireland shows that exercise may be even more effective in helping control weight because it changes the bacteria in your gut. Before you can burn the food that you eat for energy, it must be broken down into building blocks that can be absorbed. Some types of bacteria in your gut may make you gain weight because they break down food particularly well so that you absorb more calories from that food. Other types of bacteria don't break down as much food so that you absorb less.

My Recommendations
If you want to lose weight or just maintain your healthful weight as you age, start an exercise program or increase your current program. Recent data show that interval training takes far less time than continuous exercise, and can be even more effective in strengthening your heart. You can do interval training by cycling, walking, jogging, skating, swimming, using an elliptical machine or any other form of continuous exercise.

1) Pre-Conditioning: Every day, go out and exercise slowly and continuously until your legs or arms feel heavy or hurt and then stop. Do this every day until you can work up to 30 minutes of continuous exercise. This usually takes three to six weeks.
2) Intervals: Every day, start your workout by going slowly for five to ten minutes. Then pick up the pace for ten seconds and then slow down. When your legs feel that they have recovered, pick up the pace again for ten seconds. Alternate these pick-ups and slow down intervals until your legs start to feel heavy or hurt and then stop for the day. Do this every day and progress by extending the time of your intervals. You do not have to do intervals longer than 30 to 60 seconds. It is irrelevant how long you rest between intervals. If your legs feel heavy or hurt during your warm-up, take the day off.

Caution: Since exercise can harm people with already damaged hearts, you may want to check with your doctor first.

Checked 6/15/19

June 22nd, 2014
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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