We all know that exercise is a key component to living a healthy life, but you may be wondering if exercise affects your IBS. Since everyone’s IBS is different, there’s no definitive way to determine if exercise will or will not trigger your IBS symptoms.
Studies show that exercise tends to help IBS. The impact depends on the length and intensity of physical activity. Read more about how exercise helps IBS and what types of exercise are best.
The Science Behind Exercise and IBS
Although exercise likely has a positive impact on IBS, the mechanisms involved remain unknown. There are a few correlations between exercise and IBS that may explain why many people see IBS improvement when they exercise regularly.
Exercise helps to relieve mental and physical stress, which are both IBS triggers. Since the brain-gut connection is so strong, this may explain why the stress relieving benefits of exercise subsequently help to relieve IBS symptoms.
Poor sleep habits create physical stress within your body, which can trigger flares in IBS. Regular physical activity has a positive impact on sleep quality and length.
Exercise, especially weight lifting, can help to move gas through the intestine. When weight lifting, the core is constantly engaged and the process of pulling your belly button towards your spine puts pressure on your intestines, literally pushing the gas out.
Increased bowel activity
High intensity exercise helps stimulate the muscles in your body, including the ones involved in digestion! This can help increase intestinal motility, which is great for people suffering from IBS-C. If you’ve heard the term “runner’s diarrhea”, it’s definitely a real thing. This means that people suffering from IBS-D should stick to lower intensity exercise to avoid urgency and diarrhea.
What exercise is good for IBS?
While exercise can relieve IBS symptoms, there are guidelines to the length and intensity of your workouts. It’s also important to remember that your IBS subtype does matter. As mentioned above, higher intensity workouts speed up gastric motility, so people with IBS-C may benefit from this type of workout more than people with IBS-D . In addition, exercise helps reduce IBS symptoms because it helps relieve stress, so exercising outdoors and with friends is a great way to make physical activity even more effective. Check out the best and worst exercises for IBS below.
Best Overall Exercise for IBS:
- Leisurely biking
- Bodyweight strength training
- Organized sports
- Low impact aerobics
- Tai Chi
- Rock climbing
Worst Overall Exercise for IBS:
- Long runs
- Speed cycling
- Weight lifting (high intensity)
- Cross fit
- Jump roping
The bottom line is, the best workouts for IBS are what works for you. It may take some trial and error to figure out what your body prefers, but that’s okay. We recommend starting small and increasing length and intensity of workouts gradually to see what your body can handle.
Kaitlyn Willwerth is a Registered Dietitian at OnPoint Nutrition. Kaitlyn's work focuses on providing individualized health and lifestyle coaching and, most importantly, support. She is a Certified LEAP Therapist and has also completed the Monash University 'Low FODMAP Diet for IBS' online training course for health professionals.