So what’s it going to be for you next year? Keto? Pilates? Dry January?
Each year around this time, millions of people vow to start living in healthier ways, and then embark on specific programs that promise to deliver on their personal goals. But many don’t stick around. We suggest a new approach: let your healthy gut be the goal to overall wellness.
Your gut is headquarters to trillions of the most important health leaders of your body – good bacteria, viruses, and fungi that make up your gut microbiome. Together, they break down and sort nutrients as they pass through your intestines, putting what you eat to work.
This process affects much of how your whole body operates, and feels. The gut microorganism, when functioning well on a balanced diet, can strengthen your immune system, improve heart health by lowering cholesterol, and it produces chemicals that affect brain functions.
Getting Healthy the Gastrointestinal Way
When you understand how your microbiome works, you can begin your health journey from the inside. These practices will help.
Eat more plants. By adding more plant-based foods to your diet you can improve digestion and help ward off some cancers, research shows. Your microbiome loves the nutrients in plants, such as dietary fiber and probiotics. If you don’t get enough of these nutrients, your bad microbes can flourish and throw your total balance off, resulting in weight gain, irritable bowel syndrome, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Workout for balance. When you move your body, the activity boosts the biological process in which your cells regulate the energy your body produces and the energy it expends. Research has shown, for example, that high-intensity exercise allows more blood to enter the brain and bloodstream, enhancing the environment for good bacteria. But even low-intensity exercise can help raise your antioxidant levels, which improves your immune function.
Manage your indulgences. During this time of year it’s easy, even permitted, to go a little overboard on holiday treats and concoctions. Knowing their effect on your GI tract will help you choose which ones to indulge in. Too much refined sugar, red meat, and fried foods can throw your microbiome out of balance, resulting in gas and discomfort. Also, alcohol can be a real buzzkill because it can cause intestinal inflammation, which will prevent the gut from absorbing nutrients as it should.
Drink water whenever you can. The better hydrated your body, the more manageable the pace in which your food moves through the digestion tract, so your microbiome can effectively convert it to energy and waste. Further, water helps your digestive system break down and process food so your body can more efficiently absorb the nutrients.
Give your gut lots of ZZZs. While you’re dreaming, your digestive system is still at work, but at a slower pace. Research has linked a lack of sleep with certain chronic health conditions, including obesity, which can trigger a range of digestive problems such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), constipation, and hemorrhoids. Meanwhile, a well-running microbiome will help improve your sleep, contributing to better moods and less stress.
Keep your stress in check. Stress can worsen GERD, research shows, because stress can increase the level of acids in the stomach. GERD occurs when these acids flush back into your esophagus (food pipe) due to a weak sphincter muscle at the stomach. Meanwhile, feelings of anxiety and depression can contribute to diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, and other stomach upsets – and vice versa, meaning these GI conditions can heighten anxiety and depression.
If you’re making 2024 resolutions that involve living a healthier, better life, keep in mind that a robust GI system is required for total-body wellness. A happy gut makes for a happy body – inside and out.
You can learn more about how to improve your GI health through our instructional online resources on eating healthierand exercise.