Gut health (as unglamorous as it sounds), is all the buzz at the moment and with good reason. A new era of research has sunk its teeth into exploring the extensive role of our gut in much more than just digestion.
Love Ya Guts
It is now known that the gut is home to trillions of gut bacteria, known as microbiota, which play a role in the metabolism of food and the development and regulation of our immune system which protects us from infection, chronic inflammation and other immune regulated disorders; but this is only the beginning.
Some microbiotas also produce vitamins or other essential minerals and have the ability to break down drugs and other toxins. (1, 2) Research has also found that loss of gut microbiota diversity is linked to an increasing number of conditions such as auto-immune diseases, gastro-intestinal diseases, obesity and associated inflammatory markers, and depression. (1, 2) But the research hasn’t stop there; although far from conclusive, researchers have begun to look at gut microbiota to understand, explain or even attempt to treat, conditions such as Alzheimer’s, autistic spectrum disorders, MS and even food cravings – it’s all pretty amazing stuff with so much more to be discovered. (1, 2)
Exercise for Gut Health
Thus far, much of the attention around improving gut health has focused on diet – but fermented foods such as yoghurt, kefir and Sauerkraut might just be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to promoting ‘good’ gut health. Exercise is well known as an integral component of overall health and wellbeing and the beneficial effects appear to also extend to that of promoting ‘good’ gut health. It has been suggested that exercise may affect its role on gut health by modulating host-microbiota interaction. That is, by changing the climate of the gut in such a way that it is more favourable for microbiota and/or microbiota diversity. (3)
At present many of the studies that have examined the effect of exercise on gut flora have used animal models, but none the less the findings are very interesting and indicate positive results.(4) Unlike in human studies, in animal models it is possible to isolate the effects of diet or other health promoting behaviours from those of exercise.
In humans, the effects of exercise on gut microbiota have still been examined but as I said, it is far more difficult to account for other confounding factors. None the less, in a study involving a professional rugby team in Ireland aimed to examine the effects of exercise on gut flora with results confirming differences in the composition and diversity of the microbiota of the athletes when compared with control groups. These differences did also correlate with differences in dietary habits, particularly in relation to intake of protein, fruits and vegetables, which the rugby players consumed significantly more compared with control groups (this was not part of the experimental protocol).(1) This study concludes that exercise plays a huge role in gut flora diversity although the difficulty of separating the effect of exercise from diet remains.
Psychological stress also has an impact on gut flora so a further possibility is exercise has an indirect beneficial effect on gut health via reducing stress, improving mood and fighting depression.
At the end of the day, the evidence is still unclear. Exercise may or may not play a role, directly, indirectly, and/or independently in promoting good gut health but either way it is an important and enjoyable component of a healthy lifestyle and an interesting area of research to watch in the future.
We all know that engaging in regular physical activity is important for health. It reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, weight gain and some forms of cancer. (1, 2) Being physically active also contributes to optimal bone mineral density and immune function which are particularly important for growing children. (1, 2)
Furthermore, engaging in regular physical activity improves a child’s fundamental motor skills including coordination, balance, reaction times and spatial awareness, which are linked to brain development, whist also improving social skills, confidence, self-esteem, mental alertness, concentration, academic performance, sleep patterns and ultimately behaviour. (3, 4)
What more reason could there be to be active? – How about happiness? Active kids are also happy kids!
There are several schools of thought on how being physically active results in “happiness,” with these effects seen over both the long and short term. (5)
The first theory suggests that physical activity may offer a distraction and simply provide a “time-out” from daily stresses, which is definitely a plausible tactic in the heat of a tantrum. (6, 7) It is also suggested that physical activity offers social stimulation which has a positive effects on psychosocial wellbeing as a consequence of belonging to a group, being accepted and connecting with other people. (6) A thermogenic effect is hypothesised to improve mood through whole-body warming as a result of activity which relieves muscular tensions. (6) While the monoamine metabolism theory, implicates an improvement in neurotransmission of dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and serotonin which has roles in both managing depression and ADHD. (6, 8, 9,) Finally, it is hypothesised that physical activity increase endorphin release, which simply make us feel good. (6)
Regardless of the mechanism behind this “happiness” effect, physical activity can be loads of fun!
Recommendations for Physical ActivityDespite the benefits on health, behaviour and happiness, 31% of children aged 9-16 years, are failing to meet the recommended level of moderate intensity physical activity each day. (9) For children aged 1 -5 years the current guidelines recommend being physically active for at least 3 hours a day to support appropriate growth and development, while from 5 – 18 years children should accumulate 1 hour or more of moderate and vigorous physical activity daily. (10, 11)
Among the adult population (over 15 years) 66.9% are similarly failing to meet the recommended level of 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity most days of the week. (12)
Finding ways to keep kids activeThe most significant role model in a child’s life is their parents, so what better way to encourage your child to be active, than to get out and be active with them. Not only will this help you achieve your 30 minutes of physical activity and role-model healthy behaviours, but it is also a great way to spend quality time together and build positive relationships.
There are hundreds of ways to be active; kick a ball, fly a kite, go for a bike ride, jump on the trampoline, have a race, go for a walk, wash the car, or join a team.
If you find it difficult to fit the recommended level of activity into one session you can break it up across the day while still achieving the same benefits.
One of the easiest ways to encourage your child to have an active lifestyle is to limit screen time (under 2 years the recommendation is no screen time, 2 – 5 years less than 1 hour, 5 – 18 years less than 2 hours) and remove TVs, computers, and other gaming devices from bedrooms. (10)
As mid afternoon rolls around it is all too common for energy levels to slump, concentration to plummet, stress levels to peak, and your mood to reflect your less then enthusiastic outlook.
Of course ensuring your diet is well balanced and nutritious throughout the day will help keep those energy levels stable (and avoid the Snack trap), but a quick bout of exercise will also help to get the blood pumping, delivering a fresh hit of oxygen, nutrients and endorphins to the brain and throughout the body allowing you to regroup, recoup and reinvigorate.
Children have also been seen to significantly improve concentration, behaviour and academic performance from bouts of exercise of as little as 5 minutes (CDC, 2010; Budde et al., 2008).
So take 5 and boost your energy levels!
Need another workout idea that you can do anywhere, anytime (even while the kids are running around your feet)? This No excuse workout should do the trick - no equipment needed, small spaces are not an issue. Be sure to do a light warm up before you start (try jogging on the spot for 1 minute, plus 1 minute Jumping Jacks, followed by stretches) and cool down when you finish.
If you can't manage the full workout to start with - that's Ok, try doing 5 or 10 of each exercise to start with and build up to 20 - just don't give up!
We all know that exercise is important in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, but there are so many other good reasons to get active:
Improves immune function:
Marketers love to make claims of the ability of their product to boost your immunity. Regardless of the legitimacy of these claims, heading out doors for a regular bout of exercise should be your first port of call if you’re looking to fire up your immune system (followed by a big dose of fresh fruit and veg).
Being active helps to promote good health in general which takes the pressure off the immune system, it also promotes good circulation and allows the cells and substances of the immune system to get to every nook and cranny more efficiently. Exercising outdoors has the added benefit of Vitamin D which helps modulate immune responses. (5)
Sets a good example for children:
This is a no brainer really, simply a case of ‘monkey see monkey do’ and given all the benefits of exercise (which for children also includes promoting cognitive functions, academics, developing fine and gross motor skills, and promoting positive social behaviours, to name a few) it is certainly something we want to be encouraging our children to do and continue to do into their adult lives.
Improves cognitive function:
The benefits of physical activity on cognition in children and the elderly have been well researched. A study earlier this year (2014) has added to this evidence by demonstrating that young healthy men performed better on cognitive tests after a single bout of moderate intensity exercise lasting 20 minutes. (6)
Improves your sex life:
Do you really need evidence for this one? If it makes things in the bed room better, it’s worth doing right? Just think benefits to libido, circulation and sexual function. Plus exercise helps reduce stress and increase energy levels to help get you in the mood ;)
Keeps you regular:
I don’t know if there is anything less sexy than being constipated. Thankfully exercise can help out in this department too. Regular exercise helps strengthen all those muscles that keep everything moving and stimulates contraction of the intestine.
This benefit of exercise is really important for children too.
Improves social wellbeing:
More often than not we tend to exercise in the company of others, even if it’s just that random sweaty guy on the treadmill next to you at the gym. Being a part of a sports club, fitness group or even gym community can do wonders for our social wellbeing and feelings of connectedness, belonging and self-value.
Improves posture and reduces back pain
Building a nice strong core and correcting muscular imbalances through a well-designed exercise program will help improve your posture and reduce back pain. Obviously the weight loss that comes with exercise helps in this department too.
Now I know not everybody will agree but exercise is, well it should be, fun! I honestly believe if you are not having fun (or at least anticipating those ‘feel good’ endorphins when you finish), then you are doing the wrong exercise. If you are not up for gruelling hours in the gym, try chasing the kids in the yard for half an hour (where a heart rate monitor to make sure you’re not being slack), go for a bush walk or jog, join a sports team, learn to surf… The point is if you don’t enjoy it, you won’t keep it up, so find something you enjoy and look forward to doing regularly.
What are you waiting for:
These are just a few of dozens of reasons to exercise regularly before we even consider the benefits to body weight.
So the Christmas feast and festivities may have been oh so delicious at the time, but the aftermath can leave you feeling a little bleh.
This workout will help you brush off that post-Chrissy 'bleh,' give your energy levels a boost and get you back to feeling your best - enjoy.
No gym? No equipment? - No problem!
A bodyweight fitness routine all you need to start building a fitter, healthier, stronger body.
Bodyweight exercises can be done anywhere, anytime, no matter what your fitness level. From the Zen of Yoga to gruelling Military style workouts, bodyweight training is efficient and provides the opportunity for you to vary your workout intensity. With repeat sets of just a few exercises you can incorporate both cardio and strength training for optimal fitness and an overall workout.
Bodyweight exercises are generally safe and present a low risk for injury, making them perfect for beginners, elderly and even children. Furthermore, bodyweight exercise engage core and stabilising muscles in natural ranges of movement and function which makes them ideal for improving muscle weaknesses and correcting imbalances, strengthening the lower back and improving posture.
More specifically for children, body weight exercises improve balance, co-ordination, fundamental movement skills and spatial awareness, which are important for development and provide a foundation for academic learning.
So why not, put away the weights and give a body weight workout a go.
Here is a simple bodyweight workout that anyone, including the kids, can do with progressions to increase the intensity as your fitness increases.
Continue each exercise for 1 minute and repeat 5 times for a quick 30min workout.
1. Jog on the spotIf you have difficulties jogging, start by marching in place – but don’t forget to use your arms!
Progression: High knee running
2. Push UpsIf you can’t do a traditional push up initially, don’t stress, start by placing you palms on the wall at shoulder height, bending from your elbows, keeping your back straight, lower your chest to the wall.
Progression: Move from using the wall to using the edge of a bench or table, gradually moving to lower levels such as the edge of a chair or bed, eventually completing a full push up from lying on the floor. From the floor push ups can be done balancing on your knees or on your toes.
3. SquatsStand with your feet shoulder width apart, with your weight focused in your heels. Bend your knees and hips and lower your body, bringing your thighs parallel with the floor (or as low as you can), keeping your toes behind your knees at all times.
Progression: Widen your stance and squat down as far as you can. Add small pulses or pauses at the bottom of the squat
4. Mt ClimbersFrom a traditional push up position (hands on the floor, arms extended, back straight, balancing on your toes), hold your body weight over your shoulders and bring one leg at a time up under your chest, then return it to the floor to change legs (in a running fashion)
Progression: Run faster!
5. Lunge and Shoulder RaiseStart with your feet shoulder width apart, hands on your hips. Take a large step forward with one leg and slowly bend your other leg to lower your knee to the floor. Your front knee should be behind your toes, with your thigh parallel with the floor (or as far down as you can). As you slowly lower your body, gently raise one arm to the side until it is at shoulder level. As you lift your body up out of the lunge, lower your arm and alternate sides.
Progression: Rather than lifting out of the lung and alternating legs, push from both legs, jumping up and alternating legs before you land.
6. PlankThis one is all about using those core muscles. Start lying face down, with forearms on the floor, extent your legs out behind you, use your core muscles to lift your body up off the floor, balancing on either your toes or knees. Hold this position, keeping your core strong and body in a straight line (not with your butt poking up or stomach dipped in the middle). You may need to build to a minute – try for 30 seconds, rest and repeat
Progression: If you are managing a minute no worries, try rolling to the side and balancing on one elbow for a side plank. Remember to do both sides.
It is no secrete that food and nutrition is one of my favourite things to talk and write about, but I also love to talk exercise and fitness which makes me so excited to announce that I am adding a new fitness blog to The Kids Menu! - stay turned, fitness blogs are coming soon
At The Kids Menu, Nikki is our resident Blogger. She is a mum of 3, a Nutritionist, Adult Educator and a Personal Trainer.
Disclaimer: Always exercise within your limits and in accordance with medical advice
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