You may know that regular exercise is beneficial for cardiovascular health, mental health, bone and muscle health, and helps to maintain a healthy weight. But did you know that exercise can help (or harm) if you have IBS, SIBO, or acid reflux?
How Can Exercise Improve Digestion?
- It improves your gut microbiome, the collection of good gut bacteria that helps regulate digestion, your immune system, your mood and your metabolism. Clearly, we need to keep these guys happy!
- It keeps the muscles of the digestive tract strengthened and toned. Who knew that working out works out your intestines?
- It stimulates your muscles to push digestive waste through your body, which can be super important when you experience constipation. Moving can keep things moving!
- If your doctor approves an exercise plan for you, a 10-minute walk after meals is a great way to get started with some gentle movement.
- Also consider yoga, bike riding, hiking, or other forms of low to moderate impact exercise.
How Can Exercise Make Digestive Symptoms Worse?
- Too much exercise can exacerbate digestive issues like acid reflux, bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhea because it’s inflammatory, it can increase cortisol levels, and can cause the body to be in the stress response mode. If you are over-exercising, it’s time to reduce the intensity of your exercise routine. Especially when you are symptomatic.
- Ensure your work out plan includes recovery days.
- Consider low impact exercise until your symptoms improve (see suggestions above).
- Running or high-intensity cardio exercise can cause diarrhea because blood flow to your intestines is diverted to your legs during running and your organs are being bounced around.
- While maintaining a healthy weight helps reduce and prevent acid reflux, exercising at the wrong time can make it worse. Acid reflux can occur when exercising within two hours of eating. It can also happen from the change in abdominal pressure associated with high intensity cardio exercise and with the postural changes associated with exercise like laying down to do abdominal exercises.
When I had SIBO, I noticed how I frequently felt bloated after spinning. Turns out it was too intense of an exercise while I was particularly symptomatic. My exercise routine now includes more moderate and low-impact exercises such as hiking, weight lifting, yoga, and Pilates. These activities help keep me active and reduce stress all while keeping my digestive symptoms in check.
This article concludes the series of how stress, sleep and exercise can impact our digestive health. If you missed any of these articles, be sure to check them out:
When we have symptoms like gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea and/or reflux, it’s easy to blame food. I hope these posts have demonstrated how we need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
If you are feeling stressed, not getting enough sleep or are over/under exercising, then where do you even start? It’s hard to make too many changes at the same time, especially on top of the changes you are making to your diet.
Start with one change that would be relatively easy to make. You need a quick win, am I right?
Do it consecutively for 21 days since that’s how long it takes to form a new habit. Once that habit has been formed then move on to the next change and so on. This a journey after all and takes time to create and build our healthy habits. You’ll soon notice that less stress, more sleep, and the right amount of exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on your digestive issues.