Why that thing you’re avoiding could help fix your IBS

It’s hard to live an active lifestyle when you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

When you go for a walk, bike ride or workout your gassy, crampy stomach makes you feel like going home and hiding under a blanket on the coach. Plus, every time you leave the house, you have to locate the nearest bathroom immediately… just in case.

It’s a very limiting way to live. And it can easily prevent you from getting the exercise you need. But what if I told you that the very thing you’re avoiding could be the key to relieving your symptoms?

Research shows that if you can just get over those uncomfortable, IBS-related hurdles to exercise, it could be the solution to your IBS symptoms that you’ve been searching for.

How exercise helps IBS

A recent study from researchers at Sahlgrenska Academy in Sweden shows that increasing your activity levels could decrease your IBS symptoms significantly.

The study included 102 people with IBS who were given advice on how to be more active. Their goal was to perform 20 to 60 minutes of moderate to hard physical activity three to five times a week.

Just 12 weeks after upping their activity levels, 40 percent of participants noticed substantial improvements in their IBS symptoms. Here are some of the benefits they experienced:

  • More stable intestinal function (a.k.a. less tummy trouble)
  • Better control (a.k.a. less bowel control issues like constipation and diarrhea)

Researchers tracked the participants after the study too. And the positive results held strong for over five years. This is huge news for people with stubborn and/or severe cases of IBS!

What exercise is best for IBS?

People in the study did a variety of exercises — cycling, aerobics, walking. But the type you choose will depend on your preferences and symptoms.

For example, in the beginning, you may want to exercise indoors, where a bathroom is always nearby.

Some people also find that bouncy motions contribute to cramping and diarrhea. So, you may want to avoid running or other forms of exercise (including certain sports) where you’re jumping up and down a lot.

Anything too intense (like CrossFit, sprinting, or HIIT, for example) could upset your digestive system as well.

Exercises that increase your activity level while reducing stress are a great option for people with IBS since stress increases the risk and severity of IBS. Here are five IBS-friendly forms of exercise:

  • Yoga is a perfect choice for someone with IBS because many of the postures help with digestion and elimination.
  • Brisk walking is also a good option since it’s low-impact and stress-relieving.
  • Swimming is another ideal form of exercise for people with IBS. It’s an easy, low-impact way to stretch, move and burn a ton of calories.
  • Biking is a good way to get some exercise in without aggravating IBS symptoms, as long as it’s a smooth ride. Avoid bumpy trails and stick to flat, paved roads.
  • Tai chi is great for people with IBS too, because it’s basically moving meditation. And there’s a strong correlation between what’s going on in the mind (i.e. high levels of stress and anxiety) and the severity of IBS symptoms.

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Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.