5 Things You Can Do To Improve Your Gut Health Today
Over the past year, the mysteries of the microbiome has become one of the buzziest discussions in the wellness space. Science is finally catching up to our health needs, offering us more insight than ever before into what makes our guts happy and balanced, and the interesting thing is that a fair number of these factors have nothing to do with what you eat.
In recognition of National Self-Improvement Month, we spoke with registered dietician and nutritionist Keri Gans, the author of “The Small Change Diet,” about her expert tips for improving your gut health. And the first thing she pointed out to us is that gut health is intrinsically connected to every component of your lifestyle. But if you take care of yourself — mentally, physically and emotionally — then you’re doing your digestive health a serious favor as well. Here are her five tips for boosting your microbiome today.
1. Get your blood pumping.
“Being physically active is essential for good gut health,” said Gans. “Exercise helps improve blood flow throughout the body — including the digestive system.”
If you’re wondering which exercise is best for gut health support, Gans says it’s the one that you will go out and do. The type of movement itself is far less important than you remaining consistent with your physical effort. So pick the workout you know you can complete (and enjoy!) most days of the week, and go for it. With that said, Gans’ personal favorite is yoga because of its ability to help both the body and the mind simultaneously.
2. Repeat that mantra.
Another key component of keeping your gut nice and calm is doing the same for your brain. Stress is one of the biggest toxins to impact our systems on a daily basis, so when you work to minimize how much it permeates your life, your digestive system remains resilient as well.
Gans recommends adding meditation or a mindfulness activity into your daily routine. But if you’re one of those people who finds the classic meditation route to be stressful and frustrating in itself, don’t force it. Instead, find your own version of a meditative activity, be it sitting on your porch taking deep breaths as you watch the sunrise or picking up knitting. The activity doesn’t matter as much as the nervous system response it inspires.
3. Take a nap (or two).
While we’re on the topic of stress reduction, Gans says it’s critical to get enough sleep, too, because of how it helps to calm the body. It also allows for the body’s repair and regeneration cycles to occur, which can help your microbiome continue to heal and maintain its positive growth.
“I really encourage good sleep habits among my patients, which means not watching TV in your room, not having a cell phone by your bed and sticking to a consistent bedtime,” said Gans. “A lot of things with health come down to consistency. It’s not about trying to make up your sleep on the weekends — it’s about getting what you need every day.”
4. Balance out your bacteria.
We can’t have a conversation about gut health and not discuss probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics are important for boosting your body’s microbiome and supporting digestion, and they come from fermented foods like sauerkraut and miso and beverages like KeVita kombucha. And prebiotics are the food for the probiotics. In order for your probiotics to thrive, you need to consume enough quality prebiotics from fruit, veggies and whole grains that are full of healthy fiber.
“But they also have to be foods that you enjoy and are going to consume,” Gans added. “It’s very individual.” So if you’re not into kimchi, don’t force it on yourself. Find a different probiotic food — kefir, maybe — that better suits your taste buds so you can include it in your diet on the regular. And if your meal plan one day doesn’t include these healthy bacteria, it’s worth taking a probiotic supplement to keep things running smoothly.
5. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
You better bet that our life source is also wildly important for our gut health. Staying well hydrated is critical for keeping your digestive system on track. And if you’re wondering how much water you really need in a day, Gans said it depends on a variety of factors. To keep it simple, the average person fares just fine with eight, 8-ounce glasses of water each day. But if it’s hot out, drink more. If you went for a super sweaty run this morning, drink more. You get the idea.
If drinking plain water doesn’t taste interesting enough to you, Gans suggested adding a little fresh produce to the mix. Most people already know that they can toss in fruits like citrus, melon and berries, and even veggies like cucumber are pretty commonplace. But don’t forget the herb category — rosemary, basil and ginger make for super refreshing water infusions.
At the end of the day, none of these things should feel like chores. “They should all be enjoyable parts of your lifestyle so you continue to practice them,” said Gans. Once you establish that sense of a healthy and consistent routine, your microbiome is bound to follow suit.
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