Exercise to Keep Your Microbiome – and Brain – Healthy

The various bacterial species in your gut make up your microbiome, and your microbiome has been shown to be closely associated with overall health. New research from the University of Colorado Boulder has recently shown greater physical and mental health in rats that exercised more when they were young, and this effect was linked to their microbiome.


Photo credit: NIAID, Flickr

The gut microbiome

Your gut (and a rat’s gut) contains hundreds of thousands of bacteria and bacterial species that make up a microbial community called the microbiome. These bugs take up residence when you are a baby and play a vital role in health.

Each individual has a “structure” to their microbiome, which consists of specific species and their concentrations in your body. The size of the populations of each bacterial species can be influenced by age, diet, disease, and especially by antibiotics, and this changes the overall structure. Your bacterial community structure fluctuates through your life, but this research suggests that it maybe be more easily changed for the better when you are younger.

Gut bacteria and your brain

How could the microbiome be associated with brain function? Bacteria in your gut form a symbiotic relationship with your body, taking in biochemicals and sharing metabolites that go into your own system. The relationship between your body and microbiome has been shown to play a role in regulation of the immune system, and particularly inflammation. Inflammation and disregulation of the microbiome has been linked with a number of neurological problems and even neurodegenerative diseases.

It is a complex ecosystem inside your body that is just beginning to be understood, but there is little doubt of the interrelatedness.

Young rats that exercise are healthier overall

The research presented in the new publication looks at the effect of exercise on the state of microbiome in rats. They studied rats that voluntarily engaged in more physical activity compared to more sedentary control groups, and then followed the structure of their microbiome as well as overall health.

What the researchers found was that the early-exercising rats had a more “healthy” microbiome, meaning the bacterial species were those associated with promoting psychological and metabolic health. This work supports previous findings about the microbiome and mental health, the effects of exercise early in life, and the idea that there are certain stages in an organism’s life where the microbiome is more easily influenced. In this case, it appears that physical exercise was more beneficial earlier in life.

“Future research on this microbial ecosystem will hone in on how these microbes influence brain function in a long-lasting way,” said Agniezka Mika, graduate researcher and co-author with Dr. Monika Fleshner.

The authors hope to use this information about early exercise and the bacteria in your gut and apply it towards helping adults stay healthy. The moral of the story for us would seem to be: do not wait until tomorrow or next year to get active. You aren’t getting any younger and neither is your microbiome.




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