If you take your dog for a walk every day, you’re likely already a few steps ahead of the game when it comes to a healthy gut microbiome. Turns out there are a few simple, fun ways to get those good gut bacteria working overtime – let’s find out how.
Our gut microbiome is a complex structure made up of trillions of bacteria which influence the health of our whole body, from head to toe. You’re probably aware of the influence food can have on this microbial balance – with research proving high-sugar diets throw this balance out of whack and lower microbial diversity, thereby putting us at risk for inflammation and disease – check out this article for a refresher on the microbiome and our diet. But there are a few other surprisingly simple techniques to guarantee a robust gut microbiome – and you’ll find they’re pretty easy to slot into your everyday life.
Getting a good night’s sleep
Studies have shown that adequate and efficient sleep time promotes a healthy, diverse microbiome, with one study in particular showing quality sleep to be associated with greater microbiota diversity, including higher numbers of Verrucomicrobia and Lentisphaerae, both of which are beneficial for a healthy gut, as they reduce inflammation and increase immunity. In general, adults are advised to get around seven to nine hours of sleep each night, but it’s not just about how much sleep you’re getting, it’s about the quality of sleep. Ever slept through the night but woke up feeling like you hadn’t slept at all? Or perhaps you only took a quick power nap, but felt refreshed afterwards? It’s all about the quality of your sleep – and this depends on a number of factors:
- The absence of sleep disturbances – if you’re constantly being woken up or dealing with loud neighbours, sleep apnoea or snoring, all of these things can reduce the quality of your sleep.
- Feeling rested and refreshed upon waking and during the day – this is a sign that you’ve slept well; those groggy, slow-to-start days often indicate something is amiss with the sleep department.
- The sleeping environment – this includes things like lighting, comfort and temperature. Cooler temperatures are more conducive to quality sleep, as is darkness – so if you sleep with the TV on, you could be shooting yourself in the foot!
Who knew that a bit of chin-wagging could be the key to a healthy microbiome? It turns out, socialisation plays a major role in gut health, with promising research published in the Science Advances journal finding that social contact could promote a more diverse microbiota, thereby leading to greater protection against disease and inflammation. The research following chimpanzees in Tanzania showed that when these primates spent more time grooming one another they benefited from around 25% more species of bacteria than when they didn’t spend this time together. This microbiome diversity has been linked to increased defences. In fact, this decades-long study found that the generations that followed also benefited from their parents’ microbiome, and that the generational transmission of the good gut bacteria took place,primarily, during social interaction.
So, if you’ve been procrastinating about calling up your old friends, now’s the time to pick up the phone and schedule that D&M sesh! Kill two birds with one stone and get outdoors for a good dose of vitamin D. Take you friends or relatives to the beach, for a picnic in the park or take a peaceful walk through a bush track or reserve for an unexpected gut health-boost.
Spending time with pets
Spending time with pets is one of the best ways to boost your gut microbiome – and it might also be one of the more unexpected (and fun) ways. But there’s a good reason to hang out with your fury friends, and it all comes down to oxytocin. Otherwise known as the “love hormone”, oxytocin is one of the keys to a diverse, healthy gut microbiome, and it happens to be released when we spend time with animals. There are a variety of studies which show that positive interaction between humans and dogs leads to a spike in this hormone, which in turn promotes better mental health. But that’s not all it does – research shows that oxytocin may be the secret to a robust immune system, and this is because of the gut-brain link that relies on hormones to send the proper signals to fight pathogens and keep our defences at their peak. As oxytocin has a stress-reducing effect, it’s no surprise that it jump-starts our immunity – which is susceptible to chronic stress – along with improving wound healing, mental health and even our metabolism. These things, in turn, also benefit our gut health.
There are a few ways to get your dose of oxytocin, even if you don’t have pets of your own to spend time with:
- Visit your friends' pets
- Head down to your local dog park
- Offer to pet sit for friends and family
- Volunteer to walk dogs at your local dog shelter
- Volunteer at a cat shelter
- Volunteer at a rescue farm
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