All around we hear about how important physical activity is for healthy living. The idea of physical activity is however particularly challenging for patients suffering from IBS. No one wants to go to the gym with abdominal pain and other uncontrollable IBS symptoms. That is why physical activity is understandably often avoided. Is it better to avoid it? What type of physical activity might be worth a try?
Low-to-moderate intensity physical activities are recommended
Low-intensity physical activities including walking, cycling, swimming, and yoga could help relieve abdominal symptoms. If these types of exercises are performed consistently, they also improve immune functions, reduce anxiety and other mental health concerns associated with IBS. In addition, they have a positive effect on gut microbiome and overall health.
The goal is about 20-60 minutes of physical activity three to five times a week. Here are some of the most commonly recommended:
How much should you walk?
It is recommended to walk every day. The effects are better the more regularly you walk. It does not mean that you need to reach the goal of 10,000 steps every day. It’s always important to listen to your body and take rest when you feel tired.
Swimming and cycling
Similar effects have been found with implementing swimming or low-speed cycling into your exercise routine. It is important to highlight that the improvement in IBS symptoms was better in patients with the IBS-C subtype rather than in those with diarrhea‐predominant IBS. This means that patients with IBS-D should be more gentle and opt for the particular exercise that does not worsen their symptoms.
What about running?
Some patients claim that running is even more effective in relieving their IBS symptoms. Running could especially be beneficial for patients with IBS-C. On the other hand, several patients believe that running could induce or exacerbate their IBS. Symptoms of ‘runner’s stomach’ are commonly associated with running, especially endurance running or running at high speed. These symptoms can be troublesome for IBS patients, and it is important to understand that every person’s gastrointestinal tract reacts differently under such stress. If you want to try running, make sure to start slowly and increase intensity or duration based on what your body can handle.
High-intensity physical activity may be troublesome
Physical activity improves IBS symptoms, digestion, and mental health. It produces anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects in IBS patients. Although the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that adults should engage in aerobic and moderate-intensity exercise for at least 150–300 minutes per week or at least 75–150 minutes per week of high-intensity exercise, high-intensity exercise is generally not recommended for IBS patients. It might cause exacerbation of IBS symptoms and should be performed with caution.
Improved physical fitness could help reduce the intensity and frequency of IBS symptoms, just make sure to choose an activity that you can do consistently and that you also enjoy!
Bonomini-Gnutzmann, R., Plaza-Díaz, J., Jorquera-Aguilera, C., Rodríguez-Rodríguez, A., & Rodríguez-Rodríguez, F. (2022). Effect of Intensity and Duration of Exercise on Gut Microbiota in Humans: A Systematic Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(15), 9518. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19159518
Radziszewska, M., Smarkusz-Zarzecka, J., & Lucyna Ostrowska. (2023). Nutrition, Physical Activity and Supplementation in Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Nutrients, 15(16), 3662–3662. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu15163662
Zhou, C., Zhao, E., Li, Y., Jia, Y., & Li, F. (2019). Exercise therapy of patients with irritable bowel syndrome: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Neurogastroenterology and Motility : The Official Journal of the European Gastrointestinal Motility Society, 31(2), e13461. https://doi.org/10.1111/nmo.13461