Walking: we’re constantly being told that it’s hugely beneficial for your physical health and mental wellbeing. If you’ve ever been for a refreshing walk in the countryside, it’s not hard to see why. Getting outside for a stroll, even if it’s just a 10-minute ramble round the block, is an incredible tool for blowing away the cobwebs and quietening a racing mind.
While you might be clued up on the general health and wellness benefits of walking, have you ever wondered what good walking could be doing for your gut? New research is uncovering the wide range of benefits that walking offers for a more diverse, happy and healthy gut microbiome. Below, we’ve taken a closer look at why walking is good for your gut health and how to maximise the benefits…
1. Walking reduces gut-harming stress
Many of us experience a dodgy tummy when we’re feeling stressed. So, it’s no surprise that the two are linked through the gut-brain axis. Luckily, research shows that walking is a highly effective stress buster. This means that your daily ramble will benefit your mind and subsequently support good gut health.
‘Always remind yourself your body is a part of nature, so a walk outside is intrinsically therapeutic – including for your gut health,’ says Abigail Ireland, a nutritionist and peak performance strategist.
‘When your nervous system is calm, your gut health prospers. But if you’re stressed, your body triggers “fight or flight” mode. This directs its attention away from digestive processes, leading to bloating and indigestion.’
Researchers from the University of Regina in the US say just five minutes of exploring or viewing “nature scenes” calms this parasympathetic fight or flight response and activates rest and digest mode. So, step out for a stroll if you feel your stress levels rising.
2. Exercise restores good bacteria in the gut
Regular exercise restores the balance of good gut bacteria by up to a whopping 40 per cent, according to researchers from Rutgers University in the US. ‘In particular, walking increases levels of the phylum Bacteroidetes. These are associated with improved metabolic health and protection against obesity,’ says nutritionist, Dr Maroula Natsi.
People with lean body mass also have more of the species Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, Roseburia hominis and Akkermansia muciniphila in their microbiome make-up. ‘What’s more, exercise reduces populations of bacteria associated with Type 2 diabetes and inflammation,’ adds Dr Natsi.
You might be thinking that walking won’t cut it when it comes to exercise, and that you’ll also need to be hitting the gym 5 times a week to reap the gut-boosting benefits. However, research has shown that regular walking is a highly effective choice for improving your health and fitness. Click here to find out more about walking for fitness and healthy weight loss!
3. Walking in nature diversifies your gut microbiome
You might’ve heard that eating a range of different plant based foods can diversify your gut microbiome, but did you know the same can be said about walking in different locations?
‘Research indicates that children growing up in microbe-rich environments, such as on farms, have more diverse gut microbiota and experience better health,’ says nutritionist Abigail Ireland.
But you don’t need to relocate to the countryside to reap the benefits; simply switch up your rambling routes. ‘Walking in nature is so beneficial, because you’re exposed to a larger variety of microbes and bacteria than you’d otherwise come into contact with,’ adds Abigail. ‘These create diversity in your gut microbiome. In turn, this promotes a healthier internal environment and a stronger immune system.’
Try mixing up your walking routes so you expose yourself to a range of different microbes. You could walk in the woods, through a meadow, by a river, or along a coastal path!
4. Inhale immune-boosting compounds while you walk
Wherever you roam, if there are plants around, you’ll find beneficial bacteria! Phytoncides are plant- derived compounds that we inhale or absorb through our mouth or skin when we walk through parks, fields, or woodland. These increase the activity of immune cells in your gut, according to research from Nippon Medical School in Tokyo.
The cells remain active for up to five days after exposure, firing up your energy and lowering blood pressure as your digestive system remains calm. The phytoncides in pine oils in particular can help you relax. This is because the plant oils activate your parasympathetic nervous system to reduce stress and improve digestion. It turns out, walking really is good for your gut health!