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IBS and Exercise

IBS and Exercise

Exercise is one of the key tools for improving and maintaining general health as well as gut health. In this article, we’ll explore the benefits of exercise on IBS and the best exercise regimes for those suffering from IBS and its associated symptoms. 

It is well understood that exercise increases oxygen flow to the body, improves circulation, reduces stress, and floods the brain with endorphins that reduce our perception of pain. Regular exercise also improves sleep quality, reduces symptoms of depression, and positively affects the gut microbiome, increasing bacterial diversity, volume, and function. 

Intensity, duration, frequency, and type of exercise were assessed in a 2023 study to determine how each affects changes to the gut microbiota. Comparing healthy to clinical populations, it was found that moderate to high-intensity exercise three times a week positively affects the gut microbiome. Interestingly, a cross-sectional study found that athletes have a greater diversity of gut bacteria than those who are more sedentary. 

Positive effects of exercise for IBS include: 

  • Increased oxygen flow to the digestive and nervous systems
  • Improved muscle strength and dexterity
  • Calming effect on the mind with improved mood and sleep
  • Relief of constipation and improved bowel health
  • Increased energy and strength
  • Lowered blood pressure and heart strength

Which type of exercise is best for IBS? 

Exercise should focus on the nervous system and gut health for those with IBS. It should be calming, manageable, and stress-free. Muscle strength, cardiovascular, and lung capacity should be challenged – but the best form of exercise is one that you enjoy and is sustainable enough to repeat at least three times a week for more than thirty minutes, as recommended by health professionals.

What exercise is safe with IBS? 

The best exercises for those with IBS are those that down-regulate the nervous system and promote calm while increasing lung capacity and strengthening muscles, such as yoga, pilates, tai-chi, swimming, and walking. Even simply increasing your daily steps from 4,000 to 9500 will result in a 50% reduction in the severity of IBS symptoms, as reported by an observational study on the effects of locomotor activity on gastrointestinal symptoms of IBS.  

However, if you prefer to dance, cycle, hike, or play competitive sports such as tennis, basketball, or soccer, the outcomes may be very positive as long as you moderate yourself and observe the effects on your nervous system.

Lifting weights and strength training are also encouraged, providing you build up slowly and monitor your biological response. In all regimes, if you remain observant and playful, exercise will serve you, but if you become rigid in your practice your nervous system will be negatively affected. 

Exercise should challenge the lungs, the muscles, and even the mind, but for those with IBS, the most important factor is that it should not be stressful. 

How to exercise during an IBS flare? 

An IBS flare can strongly affect energy, motivation, and mood. At the same time, it’s important to keep moving, even if that means a few short walks during the day and some early evening stretching. 

If you have the opportunity to walk facing the sun first thing in the morning your melatonin will be better established for the day, helping you sleep at night. Stagnation should be avoided, so it may help to establish a more gentle exercise routine for more challenging times.  

How to start exercising with IBS 

  • Pick something suited to your temperament and skill level
  • Join a local class or a group, and be sure to advise the instructor of your health situation
  • Dress in comfortable and appropriate clothes – natural fibers are best
  • The body uses energy to maintain its internal temperature so bring a layer to cover yourself with after you exercise so you don’t cool down too fast
  • Be sure to warm up before and warm down after to prevent injuries
  • Stay well hydrated – that means electrolytes, not just water. You can buy electrolytes without added color flavor, artificial sweeteners, or sugar and add them to your water bottle

If you are concerned about how exercise might affect your IBS symptoms, discuss this with your doctor or healthcare professional. Listen to your intuition and remain observant. For those suffering from IBS, it is most important to spend time doing what you love and to find an exercise program or sport that motivates you to return. 




This blog is not intended to provide diagnosis, treatment, or medical advice. The content provided is for informational purposes only. Please consult with a physician or healthcare professional regarding any medical or health related diagnosis or treatment options. The claims made regarding specific products in this blog are not approved to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.


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