How exercise can help digestion

Posted on May 24, 2021

How exercise can help digestion

As well as being beneficial for our fitness and mental wellbeing, exercise also has an essential role to play in maintaining a healthy digestive system. By increasing blood flow to the muscles in the digestive system, physical activity can help progress food along the digestive tract, improving digestion and relieving constipation.


Exercise has shown to increase microbiota diversity which can improve metabolic profile and immunological responses1. A healthy gut is also important for the breakdown and absorption of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, proteins and fats from foods and supplementation, which make their way into cells. The water soluble B vitamins and vitamin C are absorbed directly from the gut to the bloodstream, whereas the fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) are mixed with fatty acids and then transported to the liver where they are stored and released as necessary.1,2


The digestive system also helps to eliminate toxins and plays an important role in regulating immune response as it contains 70% of our immune cells3. Anything that impacts gut health, like poor diet or stress, can also have a knock-on effect on the body’s immune system, leaving us more vulnerable to illness. 


Constipation, bloating and other digestive problems can also have a negative impact on our mental wellbeing. So taking care of your digestive system with regular exercise and eating a healthy, balanced diet is key to staying healthy both mind and body.


How exercise can help gut problems

Like poor diet and stress, lack of exercise can also make digestive problems worse. When we exercise, our gut is stimulated and intestinal activity increases, preventing common digestive issues. Increased blood flow keeps the muscles in the digestive system moving, encouraging food to pass through quicker. 


Studies have also shown that physical activity can help relieve the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS.4 Regular exercise can also help reduce the formation of gallstones.5


Tips for better digestion

  • Exercise daily, even if that just means taking a walk for 10-30 minutes each day. Moving your body every day is one of the best ways to help maintain a healthy digestive system.
  • Try yoga. Some yoga positions are particularly effective at easing constipation, especially when you twist and bend your body. Yoga is also a good option for low-impact exercise.
  • Stay hydrated when working out. Drinking water regularly will encourage waste to pass through the digestive system and relieve constipation. 
  • Breathe deep. Studies have shown that abdominal breathing exercises can help strengthen the diaphragm and reduce symptoms of acid reflux.6 Focussed breathing can also help relieve stress, which is a common trigger of digestive problems.
  • Include a variety of rainbow coloured fruit and vegetables in the diet, which can provide essential nutrients and fibre. Fibre helps support the gut flora and hence the digestion process. Fermented foods like sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), kefir (dairy product containing milk and a combination of yeast and bacteria), tempeh (fermented soybeans), kombucha (fermented fizzy tea), miso (seasoning used in Japanese cuisine) and kimchi (Korean dish made from fermented cabbage) can help increase gut flora. Supplements can also be used to increase gut flora. 




  1. Zeppa, S., D., Agostini, D. and Gervasi, M. et al. . (2020). Mutual Interactions among Exercise, Sport Supplements and Microbiota. Nutrients. 12 (1), 17.

  1. Clarke, S., F., Murphy, E., F. and O’Sullivan, O. et al. . (2014). Exercise and associated dietary extremes impact on gut microbial diversity . BMJ, Gut. 63 (12), 1913–1920. 

  1. Vighi, G., Marcucci, F., Sensi, L., Cara, G. Di. and Frati, F.. (2008). Allergy and the gastrointestinal system. Clin Exp Immunol.. 153 (Suppl 1), 3-6 

  1.  Johannesson, E., Simren, M. and Strid, H. et al. . (2011). Physical Activity Improves Symptoms in Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Randomized Controlled Trial. The American Journal of Gastroenterology. 106 (5), 915-22 

  1.  University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (2008). Exercise To Avoid Gallstones, New Research Suggests. Available: Last accessed 24th May 2021.
  2. Eherer, A. J., Netolitzky, F. and Högenauer, C. et al. G Puschnig. (2012). Positive effect of abdominal breathing exercise on gastroesophageal reflux disease: a randomized, controlled study. Am J Gastroenterol. 107 (3), 372-8.