With the New Year comes New Year’s Resolutions, and becoming more active is usually at the top of the list. You’ve likely heard of the many health benefits of exercise, but one benefit that is not as commonly talked about is how being active can benefit your digestive health.
Exercise is very important for proper gut functioning. Studies have shown that an increase of physical activity can improve symptoms of IBS. Exercise is also a great stress reliever. It gives you the opportunity to take time for yourself and forget about life’s stressors for a while. Endorphins are released during exercise which can improve mood. This is important for those with IBS and digestive distress as mood, stress, and anxiety can directly relate to your symptoms. If you make time for exercise, you’ll feel energized, less stressed, and suffer from fewer digestive symptoms.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when trying to balance exercise and digestive health:
1. Start small
If you don’t currently exercise, gradually increase your physical activity by small amounts and monitor your progress. Set small goals as they are much easier to attain, with a focus on building on your success. Saying you are going to start off by running for 30 minutes everyday can be a challenge for some, especially if you don’t currently exercise. Start by walking for 10 to 15 minutes three days a week or something like that – you get the picture. After a week or two, as you begin to feel more comfortable, gradually increase the time and intensity of your workout – like add an extra 5 minutes on OR start to run for one minute and walk for two. Consider joining a “learn to run group”, fitness class, or work with a professional to gradually build on your routine.
2. Listen to your body
Just as there isn’t a one-size-fits-all diet prescription, everyone’s tolerance to the intensity of exercise is different. Some people with diarrhea-predominant IBS may find that vigorous exercise, like running, can actually make symptoms worse. Exercises like walking, biking, swimming, and yoga might be better tolerated. You may also find your tolerance changes from week-to-week based on how your digestive health is being managed. Listen to what your body is telling you and adjust your exercise accordingly.
3. Schedule your exercise
Planning your activity around when you’re eating can help you to feel your best while exercising. To avoid digestive discomfort, avoid eating a meal two hours before you exercise. If you must, eat a small snack an hour before exercise like a banana. Consider avoiding foods that may contribute to uncomfortable symptoms. If you are nervous about having symptoms during exercise, this can actually cause more symptoms! To put your mind at ease choose a location that has close access to a bathroom. Or if you are exercising outside, stay close to home or plan a route that will have you close to available washrooms in case of an emergency. Make sure you are good to your body with diet and mind-body health to support your digestive system as a whole.
4. Stay hydrated!
When introducing exercise into your daily routine, it is important to ensure your body stays hydrated. Include 2 to 3 L of water daily to replace the water your body loses during exercise. Many of my clients actually don’t feel thirsty, so this may be something you have to consciously work on. By having enough fluid – you can keep food moving through your gut and prevent constipation, which is especially important for those of use with IBS 😉
Water is the best source of fluid for all! Many fruit juices and sport drinks can trigger symptoms for people with digestive issues due to the high amounts of sugar and sweetener they contain. Caffeinated and alcoholic beverages are also triggers for many of my IBS clients so avoid these if possible. To spice up your plain water add fresh ginger, slices of lemon, lime, or orange, frozen berries, mint leaves, or a combination! Adding these natural enhancers will provide flavour to your water, without causing digestive distress! You could also try this yummy recipe for tea sangria.
If you are looking to participate in exercise for long durations you may need more then just water to replace the energy and electrolytes lost during endurance activities. Rather then using sports drinks such a Gatorade or Powerade which are likely to upset your stomach, fuel your body with natural sources of carbohydrates. Try this natural citrus sports drink to replace your electrolytes and keep you hydrated instead. Squeeze the juice from 1 lemon and 1 lime into a reusable water bottle, add 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp maple syrup, fill with water, shake, and enjoy!
When you’re suffering from digestive discomfort, exercise might be the last thing you feel like doing. Think about how it can actually help to relieve your symptoms by improving the health of your gut and relieving stress. If you were formerly active, but had a bad experience or perhaps you’re intimidated by exercise because you’re not sure how your body will react, we sincerely hope these recommendations will help you feel encouraged and confident to give it a try! Find activities that you enjoy to help you improve your symptoms and add exercise into your routine. We’re here for you!
Much love & good eating,