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Exercise shapes our gut health, study finds

In a recent study published within the journal EBioMedicine,  a team of scientists investigated the association between physical activity levels and gut microbiota using accelerometer-based assessments of sedentary, moderate, and vigorous physical activity levels.

Study: Accelerometer-based physical activity is related to the gut microbiota in 8416 individuals in SCAPIS. Image Credit: Zhanna Mendel / Shutterstock


A growing body of evidence shows that optimal levels of physical activity lower the chance of type 2 diabetes, heart problems, and mental health conditions similar to depression. Moreover, sedentary habits involving activities that include extensive periods of sitting or lying down have been known to extend the chance of cardiovascular mortality and sort 2 diabetes, and these risks could be lowered through high-intensity exercise. Recent studies have also shown that the positive effects of exercise on health is perhaps mediated through gut microbiome changes.

Substantial research also indicates that the gut microbiome plays a major role in developing various diseases and mental health problems. Aside from the interactions with the host within the gastrointestinal tract, the gut microbiota can be thought to supply neurotransmitters that may influence the immune system, central nervous system, and brain homeostasis through various neuronal pathways and the microbiota-gut-brain axis. Physical activity and resulting changes in circulation, enterohepatic movement of bile acids, intestinal permeability, and gut immunity can influence the gut microbiota.

In regards to the study

In the current study, the researchers used data from a cardiopulmonary bioimage study from Sweden to find out if sedentary, moderate, and vigorous levels of physical activity were related to gut microbiome changes. While quite a number of previous studies have examined this association, most of them have used self-reported levels of physical activity, which is subject to bias. Moreover, the authors imagine that the taxonomic resolution of the gut microbes had been limited in these studies.

This study used data from a hip-worn accelerometer to acquire a more reliable and accurate measure of physical activity levels. Moreover, using deep shotgun metagenomics was thought to offer high-resolution taxonomic information in regards to the gut microbial communities.

The participants within the study were required to reply an in depth questionnaire about health and medical history, food plan, and lifestyle habits. They underwent a series of physical and clinical examinations similar to lungs, coronary artery, and abdominal computed tomography (CT). Participants also provided fecal samples that were used for the gut microbiome evaluation. An accelerometer was worn on the hip by all of the participants for one week, in any respect hours except while involved in water-based activities or sleeping.

The information from the accelerometer was converted to counts per minute, which was then used to define sedentary, low, moderate, and vigorous levels of physical activity in response to cut-offs validated from previous studies. Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) extraction was carried out for all of the fecal samples, and the extracted DNA was then used to discover the metagenomic species.

Various indices of species diversity, similar to the inverse Simpson index, Shannon diversity index, and species richness, were calculated to find out the alpha diversity. Moreover, the dissimilarity within the microbe composition between the samples was determined by calculating the beta diversity.


The outcomes showed that the association between sedentary habits or very low levels of physical activity and the abundance of assorted gut microbe species was converse to the association between moderate or vigorous physical activity levels and the abundance of gut microbiome species.

The abundance of Escherichia coli was found to be high in association with sedentary physical activity levels, while moderate physical activity levels were linked to a lower abundance of E. coli. The abundance of butyrate-producing bacteria similar to those belonging to the Roseburia genus, and Faecalibacterium prausnitzii was high in individuals with moderate and vigorous physical activity levels.

Moreover, differences were also observed within the abundance of species, similar to Prevotella copri, between individuals with moderate physical activity levels and people within the vigorous physical activity group. The abundance of P. copri was higher in association with moderate levels of exercise, but vigorous exercise showed no association with P. copri abundance.

The functional potential of the gut microbiome was also found to differ in association with differing physical activity levels. Moderate levels of physical activity were found to be related to higher acetate and butyrate synthesis. Vigorous exercise was found to be linked to higher propionate synthesis, and sedentary activity levels were related to a lower capability for carbohydrate degradation by the gut microbiota.


Overall, the findings suggested that physical activity levels were strongly linked to the abundance of specific gut microbes. Moreover, the variety and abundance of the gut microbiota, and subsequently its functional potential, modified in response to different levels of physical activity. Sedentary habits and better levels of physical activity exhibited converse associations with gut microbiome abundance and variety.

Journal reference:

  • Baldanzi, G., Sayols-Baixeras, S., Ekblom-Bak, E., Ekblom, Ö., Dekkers, K. F., Hammar, U., Nguyen, D., Ahmad, S., Ericson, U., Arvidsson, D., Börjesson, M., Johanson, P. J., Gustav, S. J., Bergström, G., Lind, L., Engström, G., Ärnlöv, J., Kennedy, B., Orho-Melander, M., & Fall, T. (2024). Accelerometer-based physical activity is related to the gut microbiota in 8416 individuals in SCAPIS. EBioMedicine, 100. DOI: 10.1016/j.ebiom.2024.104989, https://www.thelancet.com/journals/ebiom/article/PIIS2352-3964(24)00024-0/fulltext
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