IS EXERCISE GOOD FOR IBS?
Exercise is good for us, we know that. However, sometimes it’s not quite so easy to know whether it’s good for your IBS or whether it’s just going to make it worse.
You might feel less bloated when you exercise, or you might find that a gym session leaves you running to the bathroom. Even more confusing, you might feel like sometimes when you exercise it makes you feel better, but sometimes it makes you feel worse. So, how are you supposed to work out what to do?!
It’s hard enough to work up the motivation to exercise, never mind having to work out what to do and worry about whether it’s going to set your IBS off.
So, let’s dive in.
YES, IT’S GOOD FOR IBS
Exercise is good for IBS, yes. But why? Well, there’s 3 key reasons for this:
1. Reduces Stress
Exercise is one of the best stress busters around and, as I’m sure you know by now, IBS is a hugely stress-sensitive condition. So, by busting some stress, you’re going to reduce any stress-induced symptoms.
2. Combats Fatigue
60% of IBS sufferers suffer with fatigue. If this is the case for you, chances are that exercise is the last thing on your mind… you may even believe it will leave you more worn out. However, regular gentle movement can actually be a really powerful tool against low energy and fatigue.
On top of reducing fatigue, it can help improve feelings of low mood and depression, due to the serotonin it releases. This can leave you feeling better able to manage symptoms and your daily activities.
3. Helps Regulate Digestion
Importantly, exercise is one of the best ways to help regulate bowel movements. Have you ever got off a really long flight (i.e. a long period of time where you haven’t been moving) and felt really constipated? That makes sense, because movement encourages the movement of waste through your digestive system.
Therefore, exercise reduces constipation and supports regular bowel movements, so can be especially helpful if you have IBS-C.
BUT, NOT TOO MUCH…
Even though exercise can be an incredible tool for fighting stress, busting fatigue and regulating digestion, too much of it can actually have the opposite effect.
While you’re exercising, your body switches out of ‘rest and digest’ mode and into ‘fight or flight’ mode. It gets busy pumping extra blood around your body to feed your working muscles. It’s prioritizing this, and not focusing on your other systems, including your digestion.
In addition to this, vigorous exercise is actually interpreted by the body as stress. This means your body thinks it’s stressed, so experiences all of the gut symptoms associated with stress.
For some people, if the exercise is quite intense and they switch into this stressed, ‘fight or flight’ state, it can cause an upset stomach. This is especially common with long distance running (who’s heard of runner’s diarrhoea?!).
SO, WHAT’S THE VERDICT?
Now you’ve heard that exercise is good for IBS, but you’ve also heard that it can make symptoms worse. The intention of this article wasn’t to confuse you even more, so I’m going to give you the verdict..
The key is moderation.
It’s all about choosing the right type of exercise that isn’t going to aggravate your IBS or make you even more tired than you already are from dealing with constant bloating.
Low to moderate intensity exercise seems to be the most beneficial for helping to improve IBS symptoms. The best types of low to moderate intensity exercise are yoga, walking and strength building. These more calming exercises are best for stimulating the parasympathetic ‘rest and digest’ nervous system, rather than the sympathetic ‘fight or flight’ system that can trigger symptoms.
If you’re not exercising at the moment, try starting with just ten minutes a day on one of these (we can all set our alarms ten minutes earlier!) and then working your way up.
If you’re a HIIT/six days a week/endurance workout kind of person, you don’t need to ditch your intense gym workouts altogether, but try to be conscious of the effect they’re having on you and be careful not to overdo it. Consider reducing the amount or the intensity of workouts in your week. Swap out one or two sessions with a less intense form of exercise and make sure you build in rest days between higher intensity workouts. Maybe use your rest days to try out a yoga class or go for a relaxing walk outside.
Exercise is great for IBS because it reduces stress, combats fatigue and helps regulate digestion.
However, too much can be interpreted by the body as stress so may cause IBS symptoms.
The key is moderation - you’ve got to choose the right kind, and that will be individual to you.
Try yoga, walking or gentle strength training.
Try to reduce the number of intense sessions you do and build in rest days.
If you get the balance right, exercise is one of the most effective tools for managing IBS.
What are you going to change about your exercise routine this week? Let me know in the comments below.
Need help setting up an exercise routine that works for you and your IBS? Book in a FREE consult call to find out how I could help you.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and letting me be a part of your journey in taking control of your gut, eating well and living your life.