Control Irritable Bowel Syndrome with Exercise

Can Exercise Help Irritable Bowel Syndrome Sufferers?

Stress reduction is a key factor in controlling the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). One of the most effective ways to relieve stress is through exercise. New studies are finding that regular physical activity can be very beneficial to sufferers of IBS.


IBS is a disorder of the large intestine. Symptoms include cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation. Although IBS is very unpleasant for the sufferer and can significantly impact quality of life, it does not cause damage to the tissues of the intestine nor does it increase the risk of developing colorectal cancer. The causes of IBS are unclear, but sufferers appear to have abnormalities of intestinal contractions and poor communication between the intestines and the nervous system. Treatment revolves around dietary and lifestyle changes to try to control the symptoms.

Reduces Stress

Many sufferers of IBS experience flares of symptoms during stressful events. When a person is stressed, the nervous system sends signals to the intestines that alter the activity of the digestive tract. In people with IBS, these signals can induce very distressing symptoms. Physical activity induces the release of endorphins that relieve stress and improve emotional health. Exercise also improves physical health. In general, exercise improves overall well-being, which in many IBS sufferers leads to quite dramatic improvements in symptoms as their overall stress level decreases and their moods improve.

Affects Intestinal Motility

Exercise is also well-known to improve the mobility of the large intestine and can relieve constipation and gas. A recent study conducted in England found that people with IBS who suffered from constipation experienced significant relief from their constipation symptoms after following an exercise routine that included 30 minutes of moderate activity 5 days a week. Another study conducted in Sweden reported similar results from an hour of moderate activity 3 days a week. The exercises chosen by participants in the Swedish study included walking, biking, swimming, and jogging.

Tips for Exercising with IBS

When first starting to exercise, IBS sufferers may face some challenges. Here are some tips to help control symptoms when first beginning to exercise:

  • Try low-impact exercise such as walking, Pilates, golf, or tai chi
  • Identify all available bathrooms on your exercise route
  • Take it slow at first and listen to your body
  • Exercise at the same time each day to develop a routine
  • Talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise program
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