From Walking to Sex: A Guide to Exercise for Regaining Your Digestive Health
Why has exercise been touted as essential to those serious about rebuilding their digestive health? The mood enhancing neurotransmitter and endorphin rush of a great workout is my favorite fabulous reason to use exercise in my toolbox. Yes there are a lot more reasons to add exercise to your self-care regime, but what exercise is the right exercise?
In all, there are eight hormones produced during exercise that benefit the functional aspects of healing in your body providing you with a fabulous health tonic that costs you nothing. The mood lift I love directly counteracts the complex downward spiral of biochemical interactions caused by leaky gut walls, communities of overgrowing bacteria and microbiome losses to name just a few. Another reason to like getting high on endorphins is that they are also natural pain killers. Furthermore, a sweet serotonin boost has also been noted to arise from mild aerobic exercise like walking as well as yoga.
Exercise also has an anti-inflammatory nature, which is very pronounced over the long term. And for those who have GI systems that move too fast (diarrhea), the right exercise will calm and slow things down. For those who have slow motility (constipation) you can find the right practices that help speed things up.
Evidence shows that we activate and upgrade our immune systems as even the mildest of exercise regimes plays the role of oxygenating the cells, increasing blood flow and pushing out toxins through the liver.
However, with stress being the number one gut trigger we face, and exercise being top-rated for stress relief, it’s seems like a marriage made in heaven. But not everyone is ready for it.
Many of my clients are reticent at first…exercise has somehow proven in the past to be either too much or a trigger for symptoms. But when we start getting curious around the circumstances, it usually turns out they were attempting to do things that weren’t a good fit. For instance, if you avoided exercise all your life, or it exhausts you to walk half a block, the only way you can get started is with one step today and two steps tomorrow. For this client, gentle but consistent effort over time will bring huge benefits. For another client, it may be that their cortisol-pumping-kick-boxing days are over and its time to soothe the nervous system with yoga. Once again, this switch in activity will show results in terms of healing very quickly.
The main points to remember: no pushing, no forcing, no defying gravity, no hard landings. Begin where you know the effort will be hardly noticeable and take small steps forward each time. Then stay with it for the long term. Keeping it fun is the key. Let the hormones you produce naturally balance your system and keep anxiety at arm’s length. Look for smooth movements that keep your nervous system calm, that stretch you and move you in low impact environments.
EXERCISES FOR GUT HEALING
A special word for my fellow seekers who are overcoming IBS , SIBO, Colitis and Crohns…any type of exercise below is great for your self-care plan.
Yoga: The variety of stretches do all kinds of wondrous good. For beginners, adopting a gentle style like Yin yoga or Nidra yoga will work as a first step, especially where any exercise in general is challenging. Yoga can lower blood cortisol levels, reduce adrenalin and stimulate brain-calming GABA. Maybe this is why yoga has been found to be superior to other forms of exercise in its positive effects on mood and anxiety.
Walking: Gentle walking daily is a fabulous boost for mood, releasing ‘feel-good’ endorphins and helping with the back pain often associated with digestive disorders. Work up to thirty – sixty minutes total walking time. If thirty minutes in a row feels too challenging, I recommend starting wherever you can without pushing or exhausting yourself. You might find you need to break your session up in chunks…i.e. take four 15 minute walks or three 20s, or even six 10s.
And for those 10,000 steppers, I have found an hour’s walk gets me to about 7,500 steps and I calculate that simply going through the remainder of the day’s work and leisure activities rounds me up to 10,000.
Biking: Although street bikes are not ideal, indoor stationary spins at low and medium resistance are a good option. If outdoor biking is desired, look at flat rides with little hill-climb and minimal- to no- traffic. Again, work up to 30 and then 60 minutes starting where you are with no pushing.
Swimming: Clocking a few laps is a great way to burn calories and generate the endorphin high. If bloating is a problem, don’t be shy, this workout does magic. Use the same logic as above with biking and walking…start with 5 laps and increase by a couple of laps at each swim until you are doing a 60 minute workout.
Tai Chi and Chi Gong: These are moving meditations and greatto reduce stress, rejuvenate multiple bodily systems and promote relaxation. Starting with taking a class is a great idea, as it adds a social aspect to your healing. (Studies show that community is an incredibly underrated health promoter.) A few short minutes of practice done regularly can produce a profound amount of toning and strengthening
Running: Careful here, this exercise is generally too much, but many seasoned runners with digestive trouble find they can moderate their runs to be in their comfort zone. Just be sure to avoid the any temptation to compete and limit runs to 1-2x week so you can mix it up with the nervous system support you can get from yoga or chi gong.
HIT training or Power of 10 Workouts: If you are already in great shape and still want to do weight training, read about HIT and/or Power of 10 workouts. They both feature a philosophy of doing one set at a high weight that will get you to work hard for 8 reps and then quit. Your heart rate stays low, and you rest between sets. The total workouts are just 20 minutes, once or twice a week. Complete your week by adding nervous system supportive practices like yoga or chi gong.
Sex: Intimate pleasure and orgasmic release has been shown to improve gut health with its sublime delivery of oxytocin. For singles, experiencing desire and engaging in self-pleasure regularly is highly recommended as a form of beneficial exercise. Likewise for those in relationship, making room for intimacy, self-love and mutual lovemaking will enhance your ability to make solid gains in your recovery
I did recommend making sure your exercise is fun, didn’t I?
Other exercises: There are so many other forms of exercise I have not covered here. What about Pilates? Ballroom dancing? Hula hooping? Try them and see if they work for you. If they fit the guidelines of low intensity, and it feels good, then its probably a good thing.
EVALUATING YOUR INITIAL PROGRESS
After 5-7 days of adding a new exercise, ask yourself these two questions:
· Does it give me more energy?
· Do I feel good or does it flare symptoms?
If you don’t feel positive benefits, then its time to reevaluate. Consider backing down on the amount of exercise, or perhaps a switch over to something different, perhaps more gentle and calming to the nervous system. When the time comes that you feel no negative side efects, then plan how you want to increase your exercise tolerance gently and consistently by adding more laps, more time or more challenges to your routine. Either way, pat yourself on the back for finding your way here to one of the ninja secrets to enhancing your digestive recovery.
WHAT TO AVOID SPECIFICALLY
If anything you try leaves you tired, sore, feeling worse, its not a good fit. You are probably having an inflammatory response. If you recover well in 24 hours, you’re OK. If it takes more time, then cut back 30% and work up from there. In this way, we can keep your inflammatory markers from jumping
Expert tips on what to stay away from:
· Movements that are jarring, aggressive or unpredictable.
· Loud music makes it very hard to encourage the right nervous system dominance for recovery.
· Soccer, vollyeball, tennis where your attention is moving rapidly back and forth.
· All other higher impact ball sports.
· Crossfit and Zoomba are both too intense and rapid.
· High-intensity workouts that involve maxing heart rate
· Marathon and speed training
If you were training for a big challenge like a marathon or a long bike ride, please consider that continuing will be doing you more harm than good. You’ll be far better off training later when you have gotten your GI system rebalanced.
A WORD ABOUT SITTING DISEASE
If you are sitting all day at a desk, you must move every 50 minutes to get out of danger of developing Sitting Disease. What you need is a bio-break which includes more than just visiting the bathroom. Set a phone alarm and plan to stretch, dance, and move your body for 10 minutes. Consider a standing workstation if you can ….simply adding standing as an option will increase the contribution you can make to healing your gut.