Managing Exercise and Your IBS Symptoms

A group strength workout on spin bikes
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If you've been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), managing the disorder and an exercise routine can be daunting. That's because intense workouts may aggravate the condition, resulting in unpleasant outcomes, like runners' diarrhea. But if you're keen on exercise or want to workout to meet a weight goal or manage your health, you may be wondering how you can exercise without making your IBS symptoms worse.

Use the tips to below as you embark on a workout routine. Also, learn what the research says about IBS and physical activity. It is possible to exercise safely with IBS.

What the Research Says

Although the research on the relationship between IBS and exercise is somewhat inconclusive, exercise does have a well-documented reputation for reducing the results of stress on the body. Since there is a relationship between psychosocial stress and IBS, any activity that reduces stress should help to reduce IBS symptoms. So, good for you for trying to exercise in spite of your IBS.

Many people worry that the intensity of exercising will set off IBS symptoms. For the most part, exercise should not affect your symptoms in a negative way. But one major exception is intense exercise such as running, as this has been associated with diarrhea symptoms of frequent, loose bowel movements and stomach cramps, or runners' diarrhea. Luckily, you can take steps to reduce your risk.

How to Prevent Stomach Upset During Your Workout

  • Avoid eating two hours before exercise. This may mean working out first thing in the morning.
  • Avoid caffeine or hot drinks before exercising. Both have the potential for speeding up contractions.
  • Avoid eating fatty or gas-producing foods prior to exercise.
  • Try to time your workouts so you exercise at the times when your intestines are quieter.

If your predominant IBS symptom is urgent diarrhea, you may find that your body can handle less intense exercise such as walking, swimming, weight training or yoga much better than it can handle running. If you are a runner, however, try cutting back and seeing if your IBS symptoms improve. For example, if you normally run 10 miles per day, try cutting this distance in half. You can also slow your pace. If you normally run 8-minute miles, try slowing down to 11-minute miles and see if you experience improvement in your symptoms.

Try Power Walking

Walking may sound boring if you're used to running miles, but walking at a relatively fast pace, such as completing 15-minute miles, may be a good compromise if you can't run without an IBS flare up. The jerky movements the body makes while running can irritate the GI tract, but brisk walking on a treadmill is less harsh on the body. So, try power walking on a treadmill if you like relatively intense exercise but are having difficulty running with IBS. Some people walk so quickly, they end up at a jogging pace and can complete a mile in just 11 or 12 minutes.

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Article Sources

  • Endurance Sports Nutrition (2007) Eberle, S.G. Human Kinetics.