You just hit mile two of a long run, and all of a sudden, you have to use the restroom—right now. Sound familiar? If you suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), this can be an uncomfortable, frustrating everyday occurrence, particularly if you like to work out. That’s because exercise puts pressure on your stomach, small intestines, and large intestine. This, of course, can aggravate existing gastrointestinal (GI) issues. However, studies also show that exercise may actually improve IBS symptoms in the long run, as well as promote overall health and reduce stress. Here’s how to fit in a great workout without worrying about your gut health.
What is IBS, and how do I know if I have it?
“IBS, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome, is a medical problem where patients experience symptoms of abdominal pain, bloating, cramps, diarrhea and constipation,” explains Dr. Gina Sam of the Institute of Gastrointestinal Motility Disorders and Integrative Health. “This pain is often resolved with a trip to the bathroom, but can persist for some sufferers. While the concrete, medical cause for IBS hasn’t been confirmed, the GI community has faith that research will uncover a microbiome chain or gene, which can help us to better understand the condition,” she says.
Dr. Sam also notes that IBS differs from Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), which includes disorders, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Though IBD symptoms are often similar to those of IBS, if you’re experiencing bloody stool and weight loss, be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she may recommend a necessary anti-inflammatory medication.
Is exercise beneficial for managing IBS?
Working out not only helps your digestive system function properly, but it also reduces stress. And since stress is a major cause of IBS symptoms, the endorphins created by exercise can help quite a bit.
“Exercise is an amazing treatment for those suffering from IBS,” says Dr. Sam. “It’s not only great for the body—your heart and muscles—it’s also good for your brain. The brain is a major factor in IBS, as a disconnect between the brain and the gut can get your body out of sync, and cause your symptoms,” she adds.
In terms of which workouts are best for IBS sufferers, the answer is: it depends. Dr. Sam recommends cardio and yoga, but you’ll want to monitor your symptoms on a daily basis to figure out what works best for your routine. Long distance running, for instance, can take a toll on your digestive system; however, if your symptoms are under control on a given day, a run might be just fine.
Can I prevent IBS through exercise?
Not exactly, but you don’t have to let IBS get in the way of your workouts, either. Use regular exercise, alongside a healthy diet, to manage your symptoms, and pay attention to how your body reacts to specific workouts so that you can make adjustments, as needed.
“Eating clean, healthy foods is a great treatment for those suffering from symptoms, and even those who are not,” says Dr. Sam. “It’s also important to manage stress, which has a huge physiological effect on the body. Essentially, take care of yourself, keep working out and eat well.”