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Is running good for your gut?

New research says lifelong endurance training doesn't improve your gut microbiome much at all

Over the last several years, dietitians, nutritionists and doctors have increasingly emphasized the importance of having a healthy and diverse gut microbiome for preventing a variety of health issues. While it is well-known that regular physical activity is beneficial for your gut, little research has looked at how life-long endurance training affects it. In a recent study, researchers set out to determine if strenuous endurance training had any added benefit to the gut, and to their surprise, they found it didn’t.

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The study, which was published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology, investigated the gut microbiome, plasma composition, body composition, cardiorespiratory fitness and muscle strength of lifetime elderly endurance athletes. They compared these athletes to a control group, who were healthy older adults, but not athletes. Interestingly enough, they didn’t find any significant differences in the endurance athletes’ gut microbiome diversity compared to the non-athletes, suggesting that in the case of your gut, more is not always better.

The researchers noted that while the subjects in the control group were not endurance athletes, they were meeting the recommended physical activity requirements for their age group. If there had been a third group of sedentary adults, the effects of exercise on the gut microbiome may have been more pronounced.

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Of course, the researchers are by no means discouraging individuals from strenuous endurance activity, and they note several other benefits, including better cardiorespiratory fitness, lower body fat and some favourable gut microbiota diversity, depending on the type of endurance activity they’re doing. They note that all of these are factors associated with slowing the rate of biological aging, so even though endurance training may not improve your gut all that much, it’s still worth it to get out there for a run.