Every week, we’re bringing you a roundup of the latest health and wellness news to hit the wire. This week, we look at new research that shows how foam rolling affects flexibility, mobility and performance, as well as how your gut microbes may shape your personality and which diet scores highest on the gut-boosting scale.

What can foam rolling do for you?

You might have used a foam roller at the gym to loosen up those stiff hamstrings before a workout, but how effective is it?

The American Council on Exercise recently commissioned a study on this self-myofascial release because previous research was inconclusive or used a variety of different methods, making it hard to say exactly what people could expect.

ACE recruited a research team in the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse to examine the range of motion, flexibility, vertical jump height and agility in a group of 34 people, who were either placed in a control exercise group or an exercise group with foam rolling.

The foam-rolling group received three instructor-led rolling sessions each week on the lower back, buttocks, quadriceps, hamstrings, calves and IT band for six weeks. Each body part was rolled for 20 seconds at a time, repeated three times, with each session lasting 15 minutes total.

What did the rollers gain versus the exercisers who didn’t roll? They saw a greater increase in the distance of their sit-and-reach test after their rolling sessions, felt more mobile and reported a very slight increase in their vertical jump. And unlike static stretching before a workout, it didn’t decrease performance, which might make it a better choice for some athletes.

What didn’t change significantly as a result of the rolling was the range of motion in the knee or participants’ time on a running test.

Could your microbes dictate your personality?

The mind-gut connection is grabbing more headlines these days, with past studies showing a link between the number of beneficial bacteria someone has and their mood and cognitive function.

But could your particular strains of gut bacteria also dictate your personality? Scientists in this Well + Good post think so.

In a new study published in the Human Microbiome Journal, stool samples were collected from 655 people for bacterial analysis, and the participants were asked extensive questions about their socio-demographics, diet, health and lifestyle habits, and behavior traits. Researchers then compared patterns between the types of gut bacteria present and behavior.

What they found was that people with lots of different types of good bacteria in their gut tended to be more sociable and adventurous, which is interesting, researchers say, because of previous research showing links between autism and low microbiome diversity.

In addition, there was a correlation between low amounts of Corynebacterium and Streptococcus and neuroticism.

Based on this information, it isn’t so crazy to think that altering your gut bacteria not only could improve our digestion but also make us more sociable and communicative.

However, this doesn’t mean that you can necessarily achieve this just by switching up your diet, experts said, because a good portion of your behavior is genetic and the microbiome often adapts to any new diet.

Bottom line: While feeding your microbiome with prebiotic- and probiotic-rich foods could have some impact on your mood and might influence your behavior, it’s not a way to re-engineer your personality.

And if you’re wondering which diet is best for your microbiome …

It’s the Mediterranean diet. A new study in the BMJ journal Gut covered by CNN Health found that eating the Mediterranean diet for just one year changed the gut of elderly people in ways that improved brain function and would aid in longevity.

The research determined that the diet can inhibit the production of inflammatory chemicals that impair cognitive function, as well as prevent the development of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and atherosclerosis.

“Our findings support the feasibility of changing the habitual diet to modulate the gut microbiota, which in turn has the potential to promote healthier aging,” the study authors told CNN.

Want to try it? Here are a few tips for starting (and sticking with) the Mediterranean diet.

Photo credit: Alex Holyoake, Unsplash