How Exercise Can Help with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)

If you have IBS, it’s worth the effort to squeeze exercise into your schedule.

Loading the player...

It’s no secret that exercise has numerous benefits for health. Physical activity helps with bone health, strength, balance, flexibility, weight management, heart health, mental health, and more. For people with irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, exercise may also help keep symptoms under control.

Why Exercise May Help with IBS

There are two big reasons why exercise may help prevent or relieve IBS symptoms:

1. Physical activity is a natural stress reliever

Stress is an IBS trigger, so anything that relieves stress can also reduce symptoms. That’s because your brain and your gut communicate constantly.

When you feel strong emotions (like nerves), you may feel that sensation in your gut (like “butterflies” in your stomach.” This is similar to the mechanism behind IBS: The brain experiences stress, and the gut gets the message that something is wrong, and it panics. This can lead to unusual movement of the intestines and a sensation of pain.

Exercise helps interrupt this process because it releases chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) including endorphins and dopamine. These can improve mood and energy and reduce muscle tension. By lowering stress levels, you may prevent or reduce IBS symptoms.

2. Physical activity can improve digestion

Exercise can fire up the speed of your digestion. This matters because the longer your stool spends in your colon, the more water gets absorbed out. This can lead to harder stool that’s more difficult to pass—in other words, constipation.

By speeding up digestion, less water gets pulled out, so your #2 will be easier to pass. (TMI, sorry.)

What Kind of Activity Is Best?

The best exercise is the one you enjoy the most and can stick with. If you want a place to start, there’s some evidence that yoga may be particularly helpful for IBS. That’s because yoga incorporates breath work, meditation, and mindfulness, so it may be helpful for stress relief. (By the way, here are other health benefits of yoga.)

That said, any exercise that makes you feel good and works in your life should have benefits for your IBS management. Whether you’re lacing up your sneakers or rolling out your yoga mat, your gut will thank you.