Gut health isn’t just about what you eat. Here are four other ways to support your microbiome.
Think gut health and you probably think of food, right? Turns out, there are a bunch of non-diet changes you can make that will help you get a healthy gut. The best part is, they all come down to self-care. Try these:
How are you sleeping? Ideally we should be getting seven to eight hours of shut-eye a night for good gut health, but it’s not just about quantity – quality is important, too. To get deep, restorative sleep, nutritionist Reece Carter recommends:
- Avoiding caffeine after midday
- Exercising in the morning rather than at night – “So you’re not running on adrenaline at bedtime.”
- Practising good ‘sleep hygiene’, which means having a regular wind-down routine in the evening. Also: “Don’t have screens in your room and charge your phone far enough away from your bed that you can’t reach over and grab it,” Carter says.
You’ve probably heard of the sympathetic nervous system, which drives the body’s fight-or-flight response. Now meet its twin: the parasympathetic nervous system, which manages the ‘rest and digest’ cycle. If one’s on, the other’s off.
“If we constantly operate in that fight-or-flight mode – due to work, stress, taking care of the family, etc – the rest-and-digest system gets switched off. That means we’re not digesting as efficiently and our gut health suffers,” says Carter.
Scheduling regular time to relax is vital for good gut health. Try:
- Having a bath
- Reading a book you enjoy
- Having a cup of tea by yourself
- Getting a massage
- Taking a relaxing walk.
Meditation is another great way to tackle long-term stress, which can sabotage gut health. Meditation and mindfulness are both about bringing your awareness to what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, reducing worrisome thoughts. You can go it alone and simply focus on your breath for a few minutes or there are lots of free apps that can guide you. Carter says meditation isn’t for everyone, so don’t sweat it if it’s not your thing, try one of the other forms of rest listed above instead.
Whether it’s walking, cycling, swimming or dancing, the best exercise for good gut health is the one you enjoy and can commit to.
However, if you’re a gym junkie, Carter warns: “Be wary of overtraining because you can over-activate that fight or flight response. You can often see poor digestive health and poor gut health in people who are overdoing it at the gym.”
The takeaway: everything in moderation!