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Physical Activities That Help My IBS Symptoms

We always hear that regular physical exercise is important, as it keeps us healthy and decreases the chances of being affected by several types of diseases, but what about for us IBS sufferers, doesn’t exercise cause us more symptoms?

My understanding is that this is subjective and it really depends on many things, including the type of exercise and our triggers, and we need to try and experiment what works for us individually.

Studies show that exercise can be specifically beneficial for IBS sufferers with constipation, as it helps regulating the gastrointestinal system, helping the motility of the colon and reducing abdominal pain and gas.1

In addition to being good for our physical bodies, exercise is also good for our psychological wellness, in fact it is crucial for de-stress. When we exercise our body releases endorphins, which are brain chemical with the power to boost our mood and trigger a happy feeling in our bodies.2

It may seem hard to start exercising when suffering from IBS, but here are some non-strenuous activities that I personally enjoy and have helped me with my symptoms:

Walking

I am fortunate to live in a magnificent part of Australia, with a variety of nature walks and where the climate is mild, even in winter. One of my favorite walk is along the beautiful beaches around where I live. I could stroll along for hours looking at the magnificent landscape all around, while listening to my favorite podcasts. This is surely de-stressing for me. When I feel energetic, I may increase the pace and do some power walking. If I don’t have much time, or it rains, I may go to the gym and walk on the treadmill.

Stretching

I do a few minutes stretching every day, not just after exercising or after a walk, but also after having sat at the computer for a few hours. It helps me to relax my muscles and get the blood flowing.

Yoga

A friend of mine introduced me to these simple yoga lessons for beginners that I can stream directly to my television and I can follow in the convenience of my living room.

Yoga is one of the activities that has positive effects for IBS, as it reduces stress, relaxes stomach muscles and helps digestion.

A recent medical study3 has shown that there is evidence that yoga is a feasible and safe adjunctive treatment for people with IBS, as it can significantly decrease bowel symptoms, IBS severity, and anxiety. In their study, they also observed that there were significant improvements in quality of life, global improvement, and physical functioning after yoga, compared with no treatment.

Bicycle riding

Smooth, low intensity bike riding, while enjoying the outdoor is a great form of physical and mental exercise. I enjoy bicycle riding, but at the moment I only do it indoor on a stationary bike, as my old bicycle has unfortunately become unrideable.

Swimming

This is another form of low impact exercise that I regularly do at my local swimming pool. I sometimes swim in the ocean, usually when there are not a lot of big waves. As I am more used to the calmer Italian seas than the Australian surfy oceans, I get thrown about quite a bit from the waves and it can become quite stressful, not good for my symptoms.

When is exercise bad for IBS?

It’s up to each individual, but for me, if I am having a flare-up, exercise is the last thing on my mind, at least until I get my symptoms under control.

There are some types of physical activities, which are not really recommended for IBS sufferers and could actually make our symptoms worst. Things like strenuous exercise or high intensity/high impact activities, especially if they involve movements that put too much pressure on our internal organs.

Some examples of sports that some us find unsuitable are things like long distance running, sprinting, jumping, lifting heavy weight at a fast pace, cross training etc. Again, this is individual and there may be people who are able to do those activities, because they have gradually built up to that level and their body can cope with them.

Although it has not been studied yet, some health professional say that over-exercising can also affect IBS.

Get expert advice

If at present you don’t do much physical activity, it is best to start gently, before gradually increasing.
Listen to your own body and tailor the exercise to your needs.

As with any other changes to your normal lifestyle and routine, it is recommended to check with your doctor, before starting a new form of exercise.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The IrritableBowelSyndrome.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. DerSarkissian C, ed. Exercise to Ease Constipation. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/exercise-curing-constipation-via-movement. Published April 30, 2017.
  2. Harber VJ, Sutton JR, Harber VJ. Endorphins and exercise. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6091217. Published 1984.
  3. Schumann D, Anheyer D, Lauche R, Dobos G, Langhorst J, Cramer H. Effect of Yoga in the Therapy of Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Systematic Review. Clinical gastroenterology and hepatology : the official clinical practice journal of the American Gastroenterological Association. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27112106. Published December 2016.

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