When it comes to managing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), paying attention to your diet plays a central role. But IBS is a complex condition, and symptoms are affected by many factors, including stress and anxiety.
There’s no known cure for IBS—yet. But because physical activity and exercise have a minimizing effect on stress, researchers have found it can play a helpful role in easing IBS symptoms.
At Rivas Digestive Center in Hollywood, Florida, our IBS specialist and board-certified gastroenterologist John M. Rivas, MD, offers comprehensive care for IBS, from diagnosis to treatment. Here's a look at what you need to know about exercise to help IBS.
Can exercise trigger IBS symptoms?
Generally, exercise isn’t a trigger for most IBS symptoms. Because IBS is linked to stress, it’s possible that very intense exercise or lengthy activities, like running a marathon, may cause some physical stress that causes IBS to flare up.
Everyone has different IBS triggers, however, so be sure to pay attention to the things that cause your IBS to act up. Some of the most common triggers include:
- Certain foods (e.g., spicy foods, sugary foods, sugar substitutes, lactose)
- Mental stress and anxiety
- Emotional distress
- Illness and infections
- Hormonal changes/imbalances
For some people, certain medications or chemicals can also be IBS triggers.
Can exercise help IBS symptoms?
Current research shows that moderate-intensity exercises and low-intensity exercises correlate with improvement in the severity and frequency of IBS symptoms and other gastrointestinal disorders.
Likewise, medical researchers have found that the more sedentary (less active) people are, the greater their chances of having IBS or having more severe/frequent IBS symptoms. While they’re still studying how exercise helps, they believe it’s linked by:
- Improving stress levels
- Improving sleep
- Better GI movement (clearing gas and moving bowels)
- Improved mood
Because there are usually no downsides to exercise and it’s linked to positive outcomes with IBS, most practitioners believe exercise plays a key role in holistically managing your IBS.
Which exercises should I try for my IBS?
The best exercise for your IBS is the one that you’ll continue to do. This means choosing an activity you enjoy that fits well into your lifestyle. Be sure to talk to Dr. Rivas or your primary care provider before starting any new exercise routine.
In the meantime, here’s a list of some of the most popular low- to moderate-intensity exercises for managing IBS:
- Tai chi
Most patients at Rivas Digestive Center experience significant IBS improvement after combining exercise with other lifestyle changes, like following a FODMAP diet and identifying personal triggers.
For personalized recommendations on managing your IBS, schedule an appointment online or over the phone at the Rivas Digestive Center in Hollywood, Florida.