When you have an IBS flare-up, are in pain, or are experiencing a variety of difficult symptoms, exercise might the last thing you're inclined to do. Nevertheless, certain types of exercise can be extremely beneficial for IBS sufferers, even (or especially) during a flare-up.
Although stress doesn't cause IBS, it does have a powerful influence over IBS symptoms. Stress and anxiety can trigger symptoms or make symptoms that are present even worse. Exercise, however, has been proven to lower stress by stimulating the release of endorphins, the "feel-good" hormones, which induce a sense of calm and well-being.
We already know that exercise enhances muscle strength and flexibility, helps moderate blood sugar levels, reduces blood pressure, regulates sleep, aids weight loss and weight management, and can have anti-inflammatory effects. But recent scientific research has shown that exercise also improves IBS symptoms. In a randomized controlled study, participants with IBS who increased their exercise levels experienced a significant decrease in their IBS symptoms. The control group, which didn't increase their exercise levels, had an increase or worsening of symptoms.
If you're in general good health and have your doctor's approval, you can exercise as much as you want to. Find an activity or sport that you like and can comfortably engage in five to seven days a week for at least 20-30 minutes (or longer) a day. You can spread your activity out if necessary so you have two or three 10-minutes sessions, or two or three 15-minute sessions. It's important to select activities you enjoy and will stick with, regardless of what they are.
When you're experiencing severe abdominal pain or discomfort, you will need to be more selective with your exercise routine. Engaging in jarring, fast-paced, or high-intensity activity, such as running, jogging, or demanding, high-endurance sports may exacerbate your discomfort. While these activities aren't harmful, they may be unpleasant during a flare-up. Be aware that movement can speed up intestinal transit time, which may be a welcome benefit for individuals with IBS-C, but for people with IBS-D, that same effect can be problematic.
The best exercises when you're not feeling well are gentle, low-impact activities, such as yoga, tai chi, walking, and swimming. Being outdoors can also enhance mood and further help to reduce stress and anxiety.
Yoga has received particular attention from GI researchers. In one recent study, a twice-weekly yoga practice was found to be almost as effective in managing the severity of IBS symptoms as a low-FODMAP diet. It would follow, then, that a combination of a low-FODMAP diet and a regular yoga practice would be very helpful for many IBS sufferers.
Before you begin an exercise program, check with your doctor or health-care practitioner to make sure it's appropriate for your age and health status. Start slowly and listen to your body. Don't overdo it, hydrate well, and enjoy!
What is your favorite way to exercise, de-stress, and unwind? I love hearing from you! Please post your thoughts in the comment section below.