Exercising with digestive problems is complicated. While you can exercise with digestive problems, you may need to avoid strenuous workouts to avoid further gut damage.
However, the right amount and level of exercise can be beneficial for most people suffering from digestive disorders.
4 digestive disorders that are affected by exercise
1. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
GERD may cause symptoms such as heartburn and difficulty swallowing. Therefore, it is best to avoid vigorous exercises after meals since physical activity can worsen GERD symptoms during digestion.
Studies have shown that regular exercise, however, can help prevent flare-ups of GERD in the long run.
2. Peptic ulcers
In the past, studies suggested that there is a link between an increase in peptic ulcer disease with physically demanding jobs.
However, recent evidence has shown that moderate physical activity can offer a protective effect on the lining of the digestive tract.
3. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
IBD refers to the inflammation of the bowels and includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
While patients with a mild or moderate form of IBD may be able to perform physical activities without any impact on the bowels, those with more severe forms of IBD may find that exercising can worsen symptoms. It is recommended to avoid exercising during flare-ups.
For the patients with milder forms of IBD or who are symptom-free, low-to moderate-intensity exercise is recommended.
4. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Exercise may alleviate the severity of symptoms in patients with IBS. According to one study, mild physical activity can improve the passage of gas and help with symptoms such as bloating.
How can exercise help digestive problems?
Exercise helps constipation by promoting movement in the bowels. Increased breathing and heart rate stimulates the contractions of your intestinal muscles, which makes it easier to pass stools.
Exercise also helps you shed abdominal fat, which can increase the risk of acid reflux and inflammation. Losing abdominal fat can therefore help reduce the gut inflammation that can trigger flare-ups associated with digestive disorders.
Exercise also helps lower stress levels by releasing feel-good hormones in the body. Decreased stress levels can speed up your body’s natural healing processes and help improve the digestive problem.
What precautions should you take when exercising with digestive problems?
If you have digestive problems such as acid reflux, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis, running or other exercises that put pressure on the abdominal muscles can negatively affect the gastrointestinal tract, including the stomach and small and large intestines. This may worsen symptoms of digestive disorders.
It is important to pay attention to the effect of a particular exercise on your digestive system, and make modifications accordingly. Monitor how you feel every 15 minutes, and switch to low- to moderate-impact versions of your workout. Remember to stay hydrated.
If you have questions about what type of exercise is safe to do with digestive problems, and how much is recommended, talk to your doctor.
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Gastrointestinal Society. Physical Activity and Digestive Health. https://badgut.org/information-centre/a-z-digestive-topics/physical-activity-and-gi-health/
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