IBS and Exercise: How Much Is Too Much?
Last updated: March 2019
I've written on here before how some exercises and mobility in general--namely through walking and swimming--can be beneficial for IBS. However, I think it's also important to explore the other side of the spectrum. Namely, is there such a thing as too much exercise when it comes to IBS? Turns out, there may be.
Is too much exercise bad for IBS?
A peer review study published in 2017 found that exercise that is too intense or that goes on too long may, in fact, lead to "increased risk of gut damage and impaired gut function."1 But how much is too much?
How much exercise is too much for IBS?
The study goes on to specify that exercising in excess of two hours at a certain level of intensity can injure cells in the intestines and may even cause a leaky gut, which allows toxins from the intestines to enter into the bloodstream of the person. In particular, the study pinpoints running and exercising in hot weather as examples that can cause gut problems. This is interesting too, because I have also noted in past posts that hot weather is a trigger for my IBS, but it seems especially so if I engage in too much physical activity during a heat wave. Ultimately, the study notes that those with IBS and IBD are most likely to benefit from "low to moderate" physical activity rather than strenuous exercise.
Low intensity exercises
The details and conclusion of this study resonates with my personal experience. In addition to the experience of hot weather aggravating my IBS--especially when combined with too much physical activity--I also find in general my body does not do well with strenuous activity and it can bother my IBS. Specifically, I do best when I engage in gentle, low-to-moderate impact exercise like walking and some slow-paced swimming (which I usually do only in the summer months). Walking is my favorite exercise and I walk a lot, though I do it usually at an even pace. Even when I did do more strenuous exercise such as biking or workouts at a gym, I found that my bandwidth was limited for how long I could do it--usually only 20 to 30 minutes. Even then, I had to be careful not to push myself too hard, because it could do more harm than good.
Listen to your body
I believe when it comes to exercise, it is all about balance and knowing your body. What may be too much for me, is fine for someone else and vice versa. But in an exercise-crazed culture, I have learned to listen to the needs of my body and my literal gut and not succumb to pressures to push my limits and harm myself.
What exercises help or hurt your IBS? Answer in the comments below!
Do you suffer from IBS-C, IBS-D, or IBS-Mixed/Alternating?