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Staying Active with IBS

It’s well-known that regular physical activity is important for optimal health, and working out often provides a whole array of mental and physical benefits as well. While living with IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome, can be a challenge, it doesn’t have to prevent you from being active!
In fact, there is evidence that low-to-moderate intensity physical activity can actually alleviate IBS symptoms. Besides a number of tips and tricks to help you stay active, there are also specific stretches you can do to help relieve IBS symptoms. Read on to find out more!


  1. Take it easy.
    Especially if you’re new to exercise, make sure to choose a lower-intensity activity and take it at your own pace. Ramp up the level of activity slowly, especially for higher intensity workouts, paying attention to your body and how you feel. A great beginner-friendly exercise to try is walking, which can be done anywhere without any specialised equipment, and is easy to tailor to your fitness level in terms of workout time and intensity.


  1. Know your body.
    There are no universal recommendations for activities to avoid for people living with IBS, as each person may have a unique response to different exercises. This is why it’s important to know your body and choose the activities that help you feel best. That being said, some individuals find that jarring exercises, such as those involving many up and down movements, or activities that put intense pressure on the body’s core, can worsen symptoms, especially during a flare up. For this reason, it may be best to avoid intense activities such as sprinting or crossfit. If you would like to try more intense activities, remember to keep Tip #1 in mind!


Another point worth mentioning is that, depending on the type of IBS you have, some workout types may be better for you than others. For example, consider the following quote from Diana Reid, a Monash University-trained dietician who frequently writes about low-FODMAP diets and IBS:


“Individuals with IBS-C (constipation predominant) may benefit from more intense or endurance exercise, as it can speed up intestinal transit time and relieve constipation. However, individuals with IBS-D (diarrhea predominant) may find that some of these same gut changes can be problematic. Endurance exercise, such as distance running, can cause increased gastrointestinal (GI) distress due to increases in gut permeability that result from reduced gut blood flow. Changes in nutrient absorption and gastric emptying time also can result, which can make endurance athletes more susceptible to cramping and diarrhea.”[5]


  1. Know your limits.
    Did you know that you can still exercise during a flare-up? It’s true, and there’s evidence that a gentle and relaxing workout, such as yoga, can actually help alleviate IBS symptoms and severity. Even if you normally enjoy more intense workouts, keep in mind that during a flare up, it is probably best to stick to less intense activities to avoid further upsetting your gastrointestinal system. Aside from yoga, other low-impact exercises you can try include walking, swimming, light cycling, or tai chi.


  1. Be prepared.
    A little extra preparation and planning can go a long way! If you plan to exercise outdoors, make sure to bring any supplies you may need, such as wipes or toilet paper, in case you find yourself suddenly needing the bathroom. If you’ll be running or cycling, map out your route before you leave the house and take note of any bathroom locations along the way. Although it may take a bit more planning to exercise outdoors, the benefits are more than worth the extra effort, as spending time outdoors and in nature is associated with reduced stress and anxiety. This is especially relevant if you have IBS, since stress is often a major trigger for flare ups. 


Also, another step you can take to prepare is to avoid any triggers before exercising, such as caffeine or any other food triggers you may have.

Yoga Poses & Stretches

We’ve mentioned a few activities that are great to try if you have IBS, such as walking, swimming, light biking, and yoga. Beyond that, there are some specific stretches especially recommended for those living with IBS. Click the links to check out the following sources for a few examples!


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