Exercise: not just for your muscles, but also for your gut

 

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We can all agree that exercise is good for us. Exercise helps prevent chronic disease such as obesity and type 2 diabetes, improves mood, keeps weight in check, and boosts energy. We can now add to list of benefits of exercise that it alters the composition and function of our gut microbiome which may improve our health.

The gut microbiome is the genetic material of the microbes (10-100 trillion symbiotic cells) living in our digestive tract that play an important role in digestion, nutrition, maturation of the immune system, disease mediation, and body defense. While individual humans are 99.9% identical, the microbiome differs between individuals by 80-90%. Understanding exactly how the microbiome regulates our health and disease progression is continuously under scientific investigation.

Recent data demonstrate that endurance exercise modulates functional changes in the gut microbiome. Two groups of originally sedentary participants, one lean and one obese, began  endurance exercise that increased from 30 to 60 minutes three times per week for 6 weeks. Analysis of the gut microbiome before, during, and after completing the study demonstrated an increase in the proportion of gut microbes that produce butyrate and other short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) during the period of endurance exercise. Butyrate is involved in the regulation of gene expression, immune function stimulation, liver detoxification, cell growth, control of body fat, and colon cell health. When the participants returned to their sedentary lifestyles, their microbiome reverted to its original state.

Although, these results show for the first time that exercise plays a vital role in regulating our gut health, we can’t discount the influence of our diet. During the study, there were no dietary restrictions and all participants followed their regular diet. Interestingly, the effect of exercise on gut microbiome composition was dramatically larger in lean participants versus obese participants. Given that all participants were sedentary at the start of the study, yet half were lean and half obese, we may infer that their diets were not the same. While it’s clear exercise plays an important role in the function of our gut microbiome, don’t forget about the importance of how we fuel our bodies!

Lifestyle is medicine

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What if lifestyle were medicine? What if we could prevent almost 80% of chronic disease? What if the only thing we had to do was make the choice to eat well and move our bodies every day?

It is. We can. Let’s do it.

There is an overwhelming body of research indicating that most chronic diseases including, many cancers, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, may be prevented through lifestyle interventions. This concept is not new—the body of medical research supporting it goes back decades.

In 1993, The Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) published ‘The Actual Causes of Death’, data from approximately 20 years of research, showing that the prominent causes of death in the United States were the result of disease caused by smoking, poor diet, and lack of physical activity. In 2004, this finding remained the same with smoking, poor diet, and lack of exercise at the top of the list. But, the gap between smoking (18.1% of deaths) and poor diet and/or lack of physical activity  (16.6% of deaths) had narrowed. There’s no denying that disease is an effect of poor lifestyle choices.

JAMA also published a study demonstrating that there is a 78% lower risk of developing chronic disease—type 2 diabetes, heart attack, stroke, and many cancers (at least 13 types)—when we don’t smoke, aren’t overweight (BMI less than 30), eat well (high intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and some meat), and are physically active (3.5 hours/week). A 78% decrease in developing chronic disease through lifestyle—that’s dramatic and an inspiration to be curious about wellness.

Yet, here we are, with more than 37% of American adults and 17% of youth 2-19 years old obese. This translates into over $150 million dollars a year in health care costs. Effectively, we are making ourselves sick through poor nutrition, lack of physical exercise, and smoking.

Let’s avoid seeking medical intervention when we are already ill and be more curious about how we can prevent illness with lifestyle medicine.

How do we do this? Every day, we have so many opportunities to eat well or to eat poorly, to exercise, whether that be going for a walk or taking a spin class, or to not exercise. Instead of reaching for a bag of chips or pretzels, grab an apple, some carrots and hummus or other real food. Go for a walk during lunch break at work, dance around the room, or stream a workout video at home (there are many low cost and free options). Making these changes permanent is certainly not easy, but it’s worth it for yourself and for your family.

We can’t afford to do nothing about our wellness. Lifestyle medicine is the best medicine we can ever create and we already have access to it.

Protein: it’s what’s for breakfast

FullSizeRender 4Many of us can recall at least a few mornings when we were told, “Don’t skip your breakfast, it’s the most important meal of the day.” This sentiment is true—eating breakfast is essential to our health. At breakfast time, we are breaking an overnight fast and it’s critical for us to consume the nutrients we need to prepare our body and mind for the day. It’s not just consuming any breakfast that’s important, but consuming a breakfast that is packed with protein that’s key. 

How does protein fuel our body?

Protein digestion begins in the stomach, where proteins are split into smaller parts (proteoses, peptones, and large polypeptides). Digestion continues in the upper portion of the small intestine, where most protein digestion occurs, and then through the GI tract. The end result of protein digestion is amino acids and small peptides, specifically di- and tripeptides. These amino acids are essential for most biological processes, including: the transport and storage of nutrients; function of organs, glands, tendons, and arteries; wound healing; and tissue repair of muscles, bones, skin, and hair. Lack of protein leads to anemia, physical weakness, edema, vascular dysfunction, and impaired immunity. Protein is indispensable because it is the only dietary source of the amino acids necessary for carrying out these biological processes.

How does protein at breakfast improve our wellness?

Through various mechanisms, consuming a high protein breakfast changes appetite, hormonal signals, and neural signals that affect our mood, energy, and food intake throughout the entire day. When we eat protein at breakfast, the levels of tyrosine, one of the amino acids synthesized by protein digestion, in the brain is increased. This results in the production of norepinephrine and dopamine, neurotransmitters that make us feel awake and alert.  Protein consumption at breakfast also lowers the daily level of ghrelin. Ghrelin stimulates the appetite by regulating the secretion of Ghrelin Hormone (GH), resulting in the desire to eat. When ghrelin levels are lower, we may stave off hunger longer between breakfast and lunch. Protein at breakfast reduces activation of the brain in the amygdala, hippocampal, and midfrontal corticolimbic regions, which helps prevent pre-dinner snacking. Breakfasts that are high in protein and low in carbohydrates also lead to lower blood glucose and insulin levels post-breakfast, which helps stabilize energy levels. Overall, consuming protein at breakfast can help to set us up for a high-energy day where we aren’t starving by lunchtime. 

How much protein do we need?

Kids require approximately 1-1.5 grams of protein per kg of body weight. For a 50 lb child, that is 23-34 grams of protein per day. Adults require 0.8 g/kg – 1.6 g/kg. For a 150 lb adult, that is 55-109 g per day. If you or your child are more active, err on the higher end of the spectrum. 

How can we fuel our bodies with protein in the morning?

As a parent, I know how busy mornings become getting oneself and children ready, while ensuring everyone in the family starts the day with proper nutrition. I admit, our kids don’t always sit at the breakfast table, but often play before we head out the door. Because of this, I’ve gotten in the habit of making everyone a smoothie, packed with protein, that can be eaten while they’re enjoying play time. I hope you enjoy our “good morning smoothie” for the kids and “berry chocolate shake” for the adults as much as we do!