Does exercise help with gastrointestinal problems?
Early studies suggest that physical activity may worsen certain gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms.

While exercise helps promote your overall health, including gut health, some gastrointestinal (GI) problems may get worse with exercise. Any exercise that puts pressure on the abdominal muscle can worsen gastrointestinal problems.

Light exercises are good for GI problems. Some ways by which mild to moderate exercise may be beneficial in GI problems include:

  • Helping you lose the extra weight around the abdomen, causing a decrease in GI symptoms
  • Releasing endorphins that make you feel good
  • Accelerating the healing process
  • Curbing stress that triggers symptoms

Never indulge in heavy exercises or exercises that may trigger or worsen GI symptoms.

4 conditions that worsen with exercise (especially high-intensity workouts)

  1. Crohn’s disease: It is an autoimmune condition characterized by the inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract.
  2. Ulcerative colitis: It is similar to Crohn’s disease but mostly affects the colon and not the entire digestive tract. Even though this disease is generally not as severe as Crohn’s disease.
  3. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): Its symptoms can be similar to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), but IBS never causes inflammation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract or blood in the stool. As you would have frequent bathroom visits, it would make any activity difficult. The gut contractions, also called peristalsis, normally occur in a controlled rhythmic fashion. However, in IBS, the contractions may occur rapidly, causing diarrhea, or slowly, causing constipation or bloating.
  4. Gastroesophageal reflux: Even if reflux does not cause diarrhea, it can be inconvenient to work out. Reflux occurs when the valve between the esophagus and the stomach gets dysfunctional, causing the acid to travel backward into the esophagus. As a result, you may experience heartburn and difficulty swallowing that may worsen with exercise.

QUESTION

Pancreatitis is inflammation of an organ in the abdomen called the pancreas. See Answer

What GI symptoms may be worsened by exercise?

Early study suggests that physical activity may worsen certain gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms. Some of the gastrointestinal symptoms that may worsen with vigorous exercise include

  • Nausea
  • Heartburn
  • Diarrhea
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding

If these symptoms become severe, it may drastically limit your exercise performance.

Some of the reasons why exercise provokes GI symptoms are

  • Decreased blood flow to the GI tract
  • Increased wave-like contractions in the GI tract
  • Impact of exercises or posture causing greater risk of acid reflux
  • Hormonal alteration during exercise that may cause worsening of symptoms

Usually, other symptoms may not be severe enough to disrupt the quality of life, but gastrointestinal bleeding can eventually lead to iron deficiency and anemia. Chronic acid reflux may lead to serious health issues, such as cancer of the esophagus. More research about this topic has concluded that gentle or moderate exercises can have a protective effect on the GI tract.

What are the best exercises for GI problems?

Some of the great ways to get little physical activity in people with GI problems include:

How can exercise benefit GI symptoms?

Table. Different exercises and their effects on gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms
Exercises Effects on GI symptoms
Yoga Improved quality of life and stress level in people with mild Crohn’s disease
Breathing exercises Relieves stress that exaggerates GI symptoms
Walking
  • Moderate walking can ease symptoms of irritable bowel disease
  • Walking can relieve constipation
Core exercises, such as the plank, sit-ups, and abdominal crunches Strengthens abdominal and back muscles

Apart from these benefits, physical activity can lower the risk of certain GI conditions, such as gallstones and colon cancer.

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Medically Reviewed on 4/28/2022
References
Image Source: iStock Image

Peters HP, De Vries WR, Vanberge-Henegouwen GP, Akkermans LM. Potential benefits and hazards of physical activity and exercise on the gastrointestinal tract. Gut. 2001;48(3):435-439. https://gut.bmj.com/content/48/3/435

Leicht L. 7 Tips for Exercise Success With a GI Disorder. https://www.webmd.com/ibd-crohns-disease/ulcerative-colitis/features/exercising-when-you-have-a-gi-disorder