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Jun 11, 2014 07:15 AM EDT

Physical Activity Boosts Good Gut Bacteria Diversity, Study

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Physical activity boosts good gut bacteria diversity, according to a new study by the University College Cork in Ireland.

Researchers found that athletes demonstrated greater gut bacteria diversity than normal people.

Previous studies have linked healthy and varied gut bacteria ecosystem to low obesity ratesfood allergies, few incidence of mental disorders like ADHD and anxiety and type 1 diabetes, and prevent alcoholics from developing pancreatitis.

Non-diverse gut bacteria is associated with inflammation and markers of metabolic syndrome like weight gain and insulin resistance.

For the study, researchers compared blood and fecal matter of 40 professional rugby players with a control group of 46 healthy men of similar size and age.

The researchers found that rugby players were metabolically healthier than the control group and also had lower inflammation.

The microbiota was more diverse in rugby players than control groups. Researchers discovered 22 phyla, 68 families and 113 genera of bacteria in athlete samples, whereas only 11 phyla, 33 families and 65 genera in low-BMI portion of the control group. The least diversity was observed in high-BMI portion of the control group: 9 phyla, 33 families and 61 genera.

The players, especially had Akkermansiaceae bacteria in higher quantities. The species is related to lower rates of obesity and metabolic diseases.

Besides physical activity, adopting a healthy diet also helps players to have better gut bacteria diversity. They consumed fiber foods and "good fats" (mono- and polyunsaturated fat) in larger quantities than the control groups, especially those in high-BMI group.

"We don't know for certain if it is the exercise per se or the dietary changes accompanying exercise which mediate the change in diversity of the microbiota," said Physician-scientist Fergus Shanahan, Huffington Post reports.

Shanahan said that people need not exercise like athletes to get similar results.

"Regardless, what one can say for now is that exercise and diet can have a beneficial effect on microbial diversity, metabolic profile and inflammation," said Shanahan. "We would not recommend the extreme levels of exercise that were undertaken by the professional athletes in the present study. It is probable that any level of exercise is preferable to none and will help."

The finding is published in the journal Gut.

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