Sometimes exercise seems to make your stomach feel better, and other times it seems to make your IBS or other digestive issues worse. What’s with that? Not all workouts are created equal, and some of them are more prone to aggravating IBS symptoms than others. Below, we explain why exercise can be beneficial for managing exercise symptoms and then explain which are the best and worst workouts for those on an IBS meal plan.
How Exercise Can Help IBS
In general, exercise is not considered a trigger for IBS. In fact, certain kinds of exercises can actually help alleviate your symptoms when used in conjunction with other approaches, such as following a low-FODMAP meal plan. Here are some ways that exercise can help IBS:
- Exercise decreases stress by prompting the body to release feel-good hormones such as dopamine. This reduces stress, which is a known trigger for gastrointestinal conditions, including IBS.
- Because exercise physically exhausts you, it promotes better sleep. If you exercise regularly, you’ll likely fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep for longer as your body works to rebuild itself.
- Exercise physically contracts your muscles, which includes the muscles of the gastrointestinal tract. These contractions encourage regular bowel movements and help fend off constipation. They also encourage you to pass gas, which can reduce bloating as well as the accompanying pain and discomfort.
- As a combination of all these factors, exercise leads to a better sense of physical and emotional well-being, which can reduce mental stress and physical inflammation, helping to keep you strong and protect against factors that may encourage IBS flare-ups.
Source: Pavel1964 / Shutterstock.com
Worst Workouts for IBS
That being said, certain high-intensity exercises can worsen gastrointestinal symptoms, including IBS. Here are some exercises you should avoid if you have IBS:
- Running: Running involves constantly impacting the ground over and over again, which can hurt your stomach and lead to other unpleasant symptoms such as cramping and diarrhea. If you must run, stick to moderate jogging intervals and stop immediately if your stomach starts hurting.
- Plyometrics: A catch-all term that refers to jumping exercises, plyometrics are also very hard on your body, including your stomach. All the jumping can upset your tummy even if you don’t have IBS, and also make your symptoms worse.
- HIIT (high-intensity interval training): HIIT workouts can take many forms and involve many different exercises, but the main factor is always the high-intensity and unrelenting pace. While HIIT workouts may be efficient, they’re not the best choice for those suffering from IBS for this reason.
- CrossFit: The whole point of CrossFit is to cycle through a series of difficult moves as fast as possible, which isn’t exactly ideal for soothing your stomach. Opt for a workout where you can go at your own pace and take a break if your stomach needs it.
- Ball sports: Getting hit in the stomach with the ball is the last thing that your IBS needs, not to mention all that jumping and moving can lead to cramps and other issues. Skip the ball sports and opt for one of the exercises listed below instead.
- Any endurance exercise: Running, cycling or doing any workout for a long period of time can really mess with your digestive tract. When you exercise, your body uses the energy it would spend on digestion on your workout moves instead. When you exercise for hours at a time, it can seriously stall your digestion and lead to unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms.
Source: BalanceFormCreative / Shutterstock.com
Best Workouts for IBS
On the other hand, some exercises are more beneficial for IBS than others. Here are some workouts that you should do if you have IBS:
- Walking: If you’re new to working out, walking is a great option for those with IBS (and really anyone!). It’s low impact, requires minimal equipment and has a low chance of causing cramps and other issues, so get outside and take a lap around the neighborhood.
- Swimming: Swimming is high cardio but low impact, thanks to the way the water cushions and supports your body. While not everyone has access to a swimming pool, it’s a great option for those who do.
- Cycling: Another low-impact cardio exercise that may be more accessible is cycling. If you’re not coordinated enough to ride a bike on the road or trails, a stationary bike inside will ensure that you get a great workout while eliminating the chance for accidents.
- Yoga: Yoga is low impact and serves up workouts ranging from gentle to intense, depending on which type of class you choose. You’ll build your core while improving balance and flexibility, all without irritating your stomach.
- Pilates: Pilates is similar to yoga in some ways, but it involves more movement, whereas yoga focuses on holding or flowing through certain poses. Pilates can be done on a machine at a studio or with minimal equipment at home, which is why many people enjoy it as a low-impact but still intense workout.
- Bodyweight exercises: As the name suggests, bodyweight exercises involve using your own body to work your muscles: think push-ups, squats, etc. Because of the lack of equipment, these workouts reduce the chance that you accidentally strain something or hurt your gastrointestinal tract while still ensuring a great workout.
- Stretching: This is another great option for those new to working out, and it’s also a good option for rest days when you still want to move around a bit. Stretching gets your blood flowing, works out sore muscles and can help contribute to regular bowel movements. Even if you don’t have dedicated stretch days, you should still stretch after each workout to promote recovery!
If you think that you don’t have time to exercise, start with five minutes a day and start eating right. Ordering your meals from a low-FODMAP meal delivery service can help free up some time and ensure that your diet is compliant with IBS best practices. While exercise is a fantastic complement to other therapies, it’s not enough for IBS on its own, which is why exercise is best used alongside dietary changes.