Gut health is a critical component of our overall health. Having a healthy amount of “beneficial” bacteria in our guts can help ward off illness and disease, and even improve our mental health. But, according to a survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adult men and women, 72% of Americans are living with digestive issues like gas, bloating, and abdominal pain, all of which can be improved with proper gut health.
To help you live your healthiest life, we’ve compiled a list of 4 ways to improve your gut health. While some of these suggestions may seem obvious, others, like cultivating a regular mindfulness practice, may surprise you!
1. Reduce your stress level
Stress has very direct effects on the gut. Not only can it physically affect contractions within the GI tract, but it can also reduce the number of beneficial bacteria available within the gut and impair its ability to absorb nutrients. As you can imagine, these effects aren’t pretty: gas, constipation, diarrhea, malnutrition, and stomach pain are all symptoms of a stressed-out person’s gut.
Therefore, one of the best things you can do for your gut health (and your overall well-being) is to reduce your stress level. But since the pandemic began, Americans have reported feeling more stressed than ever. So how can you become less stressed? Here are a few suggestions:
- Develop a meditation practice. Meditation is such a great antidote for stress because it allows us to distance ourselves from anxiety-producing thoughts and live in the present moment. If you’re new to meditation, try downloading a phone app, like InsightTimer or Calm. These apps offer guided meditations, breathing exercises, and soothing background music to help you find your inner zen.
- Go on nature walks. Research from the American Psychological Association shows that spending time in nature can help improve attention, lower stress, enhance mood, and even increase empathy and cooperation. Furthermore, feeling connected to nature—regardless of the amount of time one spends outdoors—can enhance overall well-being. We know that spending time in nature can be difficult for many people, especially those living in urban areas, so here are a few tips: 1) Replace one gym day with a 60-minute walk outside each week; 2) Go for a 20-minute jog around your neighborhood at least once a week; 3) Find a secluded spot in a nearby park and simply observe your surroundings.
- Practice gratitude daily. Practicing gratitude can alleviate stress and tension, and even instill a sense of hope for the future by helping us to appreciate what we already have. When done regularly, practicing gratitude fosters positive feelings and can contribute to a sense of well-being. For some people, gratitude involves daily prayer; for others, it’s writing down a list of people, places, and things they are grateful for.
One of the best things you can do for your gut is to reduce your stress.
2. Eat more fruits and vegetables
Making sure a large portion of your diet is plant-based is a critical step in developing good gut health. We know we’re not the first ones who have encouraged you to eat your fruits and veggies, but we can’t over-emphasize how important this is: plant-based foods contain a ton of fiber and other nutrients that increase the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, reducing inflammation and the risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and other diet-related diseases.
To reap the maximum gut health benefits of eating plants, researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine suggest eating at least 30 different plant foods per week, including fruits, veggies, and grains. But just because you should eat more plants doesn’t mean you have to go vegan. Instead, try replacing some meat-based dishes with hearty plant-based foods, like sweet potatoes, jackfruit, and lentils. You can also incorporate soy-based foods like tofu and tempeh into your regular diet for an added protein boost. For a super-easy (and tasty!) way to consume more plant foods, invest in a quality blender and start making your own fruit and veggie smoothies!
Eating a variety of plant-based foods can increase the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, reducing inflammation and the risk of diet-related diseases.
3. Avoid excessive alcohol use
Alcohol’s effects on the liver have long been documented, but did you know that excessive drinking can also harm your gut? Like stress and a nutrient-deficient diet, too much alcohol can inhibit the production of digestive enzymes in your gut, making it more difficult for your body to break down, digest, and absorb nutrients from your food. Excessive alcohol consumption can also cause inflammation in your gut, resulting in “leaky gut syndrome”—when the wall of your gut lining becomes more permeable, allowing larger particles of food, bacteria, and waste to seep through the intestines directly into the bloodstream.
We know it can be tempting to have an extra glass of wine at the end of the day, especially if you’re already dealing with a lot of stress and tension. However, finding healthy alternatives to drinking in the evening, like having a sparkling mocktail or cup of herbal tea, spending time stretching, or even having an indulgent piece of dark chocolate, can go a long way in helping you re-establish a happy gut. Plus, your liver and skin will also thank you for cutting back!
4. Exercise regularly
Evidence suggests that exercise can also modify the types of bacteria that reside within our guts. One of these bacteria is a fatty acid called butyrate that can help repair the gut lining and reduce inflammation, potentially preventing inflammatory bowel disease and insulin resistance. Another is A. muciniphila, a type of bacteria that has been associated with having a lean body mass index and a healthy metabolism.
But just how much exercise do you need to cultivate a healthy belly? One study found that women who swam or walked at a brisk pace for at least 3 hours a week for 6 weeks had increased levels of A. muciniphila, as well as F. prausitzii and R. hominis, two types of gut bacteria associated with reduced inflammation. However, when participants returned to their normal sedentary lifestyles after this initial 6-week period, they lost these beneficial bacteria, suggesting that the key to maintaining gut health with exercise is adopting a consistent exercise routine.
Dr. Maningas is your key to looking great in Joplin, MO
While cosmetic treatments aren’t a substitute for the above suggestions, cosmetic injections, non-surgical body contouring, and laser skincare procedures can complement a healthy lifestyle by refreshing your appearance and giving you a confidence boost. Learn more about how triple-board certified cosmetic surgeon Dr. Talon Maningas can help you look and feel your best in Joplin, Fayetteville, and the rest of the 4-state area by contacting us online or calling (417) 437-0303.