Doing Cardio Can Give You This One Surprising Health Benefit, A New Study Suggests

by Carolyn de Lorenzo

We all know that regular exercise is so key to good health. It’s a no-brainer that working out on the reg is one of the best things we can do for ourselves — it can help boost our moods, mental clarity, and overall well-being. But according to a new study from San Francisco State University, good cardiovascular fitness also contributes to a healthier gut. Published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, this study is the first to specifically examine the relationship between cardiovascular fitness and gut health, and the findings are super promising.

Basically, healthy gut composition is made up of trillions of little microbes that can either promote good health or hinder it, according to WebMD — some microbes contribute to good health, while others cause disease. Good gut bugs, or bacteria, need to outweigh the bad in the gut — also known as the microbiome — so that we can experience the best health possible. You can think of your gut as your inner ecosystem of sorts, and a robust balance of healthy bacteria, with the good outweighing the harmful, is super important for feeling well and preventing a veritable slew of illnesses.

Study author Ryan Durk, a SF State graduate with a master’s degree in kinesiology, partnered up with Assistant Professor of Kinesiology, Jimmy Bagley, and the SF State Health Equity Research Lab (HER) to test out the connections between cardiovascular fitness and gut health. Their analysis showed that participants with the best cardiovascular fitness also had the highest rates of beneficial gut bacteria.

Durk enlisted the participation of 17 women and 20 men from the SF State campus in order to conduct his research. Participants’ cardiovascular fitness was tested on a treadmill, while researchers analyzed their body composition and gut bacteria via lab tests. Study participants also journalled what they ate throughout the week, and researchers used this info to assess participants’ overall gut health, their ratios of good to bad bacteria, and how exercise influenced these health factors. Researchers specifically examined two bacteria groups — one of which keeps the intestinal lining strong, and helps prevent leaky gut syndrome.

Durk and his colleagues found that participants with the highest levels of cardiovascular fitness had the healthiest guts — and high levels of the bacteria group which helps keep the intestinal lining super strong and sealed up. Durk said via a recent press release that “These metabolic byproducts help strengthen the intestinal lining and help prevent leaky gut syndrome.” He went on to say that, if upping cardiovascular health promotes healthier guts, this research proves the notion of “exercise as medicine.”

Durk also said that while ample evidence shows that regular exercise helps people stay healthy and live longer lives, we also now know that “exercise is crucial for increasing beneficial bacteria in the gut.” Durk and colleagues hope that this research, combined with other findings about how the gut impacts overall health, could mean the development of prescribed exercise programs for strengthening the microbiome. “We’re not there yet,” Durk said, “but this helps create that foundation.”

In the meantime, keep noshing on foods that promote gut health, like sauerkraut, kimchi, sweet potatoes, and fresh fruits and veggies. And given that exercise is basically one of the all-time best things we can do to stay healthy and feeling good, a good cardiovascular fitness program — think spin classes, Zumba, or even a brisk walk or run — can clearly help up the good bugs in the gut, while keeping that gut lining strong, sealed, and healthy. And it doesn’t hurt to take a good probiotic supplement, too.