Exercise Improves the Health of our Microbiome


The ecosystem of bacteria, fungi, and viruses — living on and inside our bodies — is known as the microbiome. Even if you take baths daily, brush your teeth, and wash your hands, you are walking around accompanied by your own unique ecosphere of microbes, roughly a hundred trillion bacteria, some good, and some bad. In fact, our human cells are outnumbered ten to one by these nonhuman cells along for the ride. Mapping the microbiome, like the genome-mapping project, is an ongoing global effort. An unhealthy microbiome has now been linked with multiple diseases and conditions, including clostridium difficile infection, psoriasis, reflux esophagitis, obesity, childhood- onset asthma, gastrointestinal disorders, neuropsychiatric illness like depression and anxiety, multi-drug-resistant organisms, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

A new study published by scientists from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that exercise reliably modified aspects of the microbiome. The subjects, who had been previously sedentary, participated in supervised exercise three days a week for six weeks. They engaged in moderate to vigorous intensity exercise for 30-60 minutes each time. Importantly, they were asked to not change their diets. At the end of the six weeks the investigators found clear changes in the participants gut microbiome compared to before they started exercising. This was especially true for the normal weight individuals compared to those who were extremely overweight at the start. After only six weeks of exercise, the microbiome showed an increase in constituents reflective of decreased inflammation. The participants then reverted to their pre-exercise sedentary behavior for six weeks and their microbiome profile reverted back to the way it was prior to the study. These findings suggest that exercise can innervate the gut and modify the microbiome in a short period of time but sustaining these changes will require regular exercise.

Ultra-Processed Foods May Increase Cancer Risk

A new study published in the British Medical Journal reported that individuals who eat more highly processed foods have higher odds of developing cancer than their counterparts who eat less processed foods. In fact, the risk went up to 12 percent in the group consuming the most highly processed foods. Although correlational in nature, the study was a prospective study conducted in just over 100,000 individuals over an 8-year period of time. Correlation (when two things are associated) does not equal causation (when we know that one things causes another), but this is not the first time processed foods have been linked with cancer. The association may be due to a number of factors including the poor nutritional value of the food, dietary constituents such as sugar that may lead to inflammation, and additives that in and of themselves may be carcinogenic.

Community Recipes

Pea and Asparagus Salad

A talented cook and friend, Mark Dykes, created this recipe. It is so good that at one point we were eating it once a week! We keep the onions separate if we eat it over several days and add them as we go. The onions are also terrific in eggs, tacos, or just about anything.

This dish can be vegan or vegetarian, is high in fiber, and a good source of vegetable protein.

These amounts can be adjusted to personal taste.

1-2 handfuls of washed arugula

1 bunch washed fresh chopped mint

1 bag of frozen green peas – cooked for 1-2 minutes in boiling water

1 bunch chopped raw asparagus – washed and tough ends removed
and sliced in ½ inch pieces (you can steam them lightly if you prefer)

Parmesan to taste – shaved or grated – optional
½ a red onion thinly sliced and soaked 15-30 min. in rice wine vinegar

Put onions in a bowl and cover with rice wine vinegar. Let soak for 15-30 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large bowl combine the rest of the ingredients. Add olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Combine desired quantity of soaked onions to the bowl and mix.