Why Sitting Impairs Gut Health, Digestion and the Microbiome

Why Sitting Impairs Gut Health, Digestion and the Microbiome

The connection between sitting and a disturbed digestion is relatively simple. The two main factors that negatively influence the health of the intestines are a reduced blood flow and increased pressure due to the compression of the intestinal organs between the hip and the diaphragm.

Setting leads to a drastic increase in pressure in the abdominal cavity. This results in a reduced supply of blood to the digestive organs and, as a consequence, reduced functionality and restricted digestion.

A sedentary lifestyle has been associated with inflammatory bowel disease, constipation and a disturbed microbiome.

Therefore it is recommended not to spend long periods of time sitting after a meal. The compressed intestinal contents lead to chronic inflammatory changes in the intestinal wall, which in turn increases the risk of cancer development, especially in the colon.

Another study showed that a sedentary lifestyle also has a negative influence on the microbiome, the intestinal flora. This leads to an imbalance between bacteria that are essential and useful for our health and bacteria that are harmful to our health.

One of the major factors affecting gut health is the makeup of our microbiome, i.e. the diversity of bacteria and other microorganisms in our gastrointestinal tract, skin, airways, and genitourinary tract. These microorganisms outnumber our own cells and play a significant role in virtually all aspects of our health. They synthesise nutrients, create compounds that regulate inflammation and immune function, influence gene expression, help break down toxins and, in the case of pathogens, produce toxins. These microorganisms can even synthesise neurotransmitters that affect our mood, desires, sensitivity to pain, and our ability to think clearly.

Our understanding of the microbiome and its effects on psychological and cognitive health has increased substantially and rapidly in recent years. Research has found, for instance, that people who are sedentary have a significantly less diverse and robust microbiome when compared to more active people. This predisposes those who are less active to a greater risk of immune system dysfunction, poor digestion, allergies and intolerances, undesirable inflammation, bowel disease, and a host of negative cognitive and psychological consequences (Barton et al., 2018).

Fortunately, sedentary people can bolster the health of their microbiome by increasing their level of physical activity (Cronin et al., 2018), which also serves to decrease chronic low-level inflammation. This persistent inflammation has been increasingly recognised as a cornerstone of most chronic non-infectious diseases (Clarke et al., 2014), suggesting that modifying the microbiome could have major consequences for lifelong health and happiness. Indeed, many of the health benefits associated with being physically active are, at least in part, mediated by the microbiome and microbe-host interactions. These include prevention and treatment of age-related cognitive impairment, prevention of various types of cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, prevention and management of irritable bowel syndrome, and psychological disorders including depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (O'Sullivan et al., 2015).

About the Author 

Eric Soehngen, M.D., Ph.D. is a German physician and specialist in Internal Medicine. With his company Walkolution, he battles the negative health effects that sitting has on the human body. 

Walkolution develops ergonomically optimized treadmill desks, which help to bring more movement into the daily work routine in the office or home office.

Photo credit: H.F.E & CO

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