A topic that’s on many of our minds every holiday season — how do we digest all this food?!
We don’t want you to miss out on delicious treats this season (it’s all part of a balanced, healthy lifestyle!) but sometimes — especially if we haven’t eaten this kind of food in a while — it can be a lot for our system.
One of our favorite fun facts on this topic is that exercise supports digestion. We’re not saying to run a 10K or do 100 burpees immediately after a festive feast, but making some adjustments to your lifestyle can improve your digestive function and help you feel better.
We wanted to dive deeper into the effects of exercise for digestion, so we asked some experts to weigh in, and we’re sharing what they had to say.
Exercise For Digestion
We know that exercise is a key part of a healthy lifestyle, but how does it affect digestion?
“In general, regular exercise contributes to good blood flow and circulation,” says Lisa Mastela, RD, MPH, founder of Bumpin’ Blends. “But while you’re exercising, blood flow is diverted to your muscles, away from the intestines (this is why you can get stomach cramps) — so it doesn’t help in the moment but rather as part of a healthy lifestyle.”
“If you’re exercising regularly, your digestion should improve,” she explains (this is clinically supported). But are there types of workouts and exercises that can help you after a meal?
RELATED: A 5-Step Approach to Support Digestion & Combat Bloating After a Big Meal
How to Work Out to Improve Digestion According to Experts
Mastela recommends not doing a vigorous workout after a meal. If you decide to do a longer, lower intensity exercise, “This can benefit digestion because your [exercising] muscles don’t need as much blood flow (compared to a high-intensity workout). So, blood is pumping harder and vascularizing the body without being totally diverted away from intestines.”
Here are some key takeaways on how to exercise for digestion.
Keep It Low Intensity
“So the best exercises after eating are walking, yoga, stretching, or low-intensity steady-state (LISS) exercises,” says Mastela.
Stretch and Flow
“Yoga and stretching have their own slew of direct benefits on digestion.” Some studies have shown that yoga may also help you eat more mindfully, which may impact digestion as well.
Take a Walk
Mastela recommends a slow and steady post-meal walk for a digestive aid. Lauren Saracione, AFAA certified personal trainer, Fletcher Pilates trainer, YogaFit trainer, and holistic pain elimination coach agrees. “Take five deep breaths — center yourself — and then go on a walk. Outside, if weather permits, or on a treadmill.” This may help your metabolism, too. “A brisk walk post-meal prompts good digestion,” says Caitlin Jones, AFAA Certified Personal Trainer. “This light activity signals to the body that it’s going to put these calories to use.”
Wait Two Hours Before Anything Vigorous
“Timing is everything,” says Jones. “Try to avoid eating at least two hours in advance of planned exercise, or conversely, avoid working out for at least two hours after eating. Burpees on a full stomach can equal reflux or indigestion.”
Don’t Lay Down
Maybe avoid savasana after a big meal; both Jones and Saracione note that this is a no-no. “Remain upright after meals,” advises Saracione. “We digest better when we are upright,” explains Jones. “Post-meal would be a bad time to do exercises that require a reclined position — or worse — an inclined position.”
Make Exercise a Consistent Part of Your Life
Whether you’re walking or Sun Salutating after a meal, or you’re exercising before a big holiday feast, the most important takeaway is that regular exercise supports healthy bodily functions, including healthy digestion. Think preventatively versus reactively when you can — i.e., exercise regularly as a preventative measure instead of trying to work out after a meal (like the experts said, this may not go well for you if you go too hard). By making movement a part of your everyday life, the better off you’ll be when it comes to digesting big meals.