Exercise for IBS

Managing Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms with Exercise


Relief Report 027: Does Exercise Help IBS or Make it Worse?

Relief Report 027: Does Exercise Help IBS or Make it Worse?To get clear on your Triggers, download our checklist here https://stephanieclairmont.com/triggerchecklist

Posted by Stephanie Clairmont, RD on Wednesday, January 31, 2018


I’m sure you’ve heard mixed things about exercise when it comes to Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Maybe you’ve heard that exercise is very beneficial for overall health, digestive health, and relieving IBS symptoms. But you’ve also probably heard that exercise can make your IBS symptoms worse, or even that it can trigger IBS symptoms. When there is mixed information about a topic it is very hard to decide what to do. So, today’s post is all about helping you filter through all the information (and misinformation). Time to dive right in and move your body!


Benefits of Exercise for IBS

A healthy lifestyle is a key factor in living well with IBS. Adopting an exercise routine can play a huge role in helping you live your healthiest life. Exercise can be really good for IBS symptom relief and also comes along with some great health promoting benefits.

One thing exercise does is reduce stress. As you may know, stress is a key trigger for many IBS symptoms. Stress can worsen digestive symptoms and leave your whole body and mind feeling sluggish. Exercise works as a mechanism for stress management and allows you to better cope with the emotional and physical stressors that life throws at you. Exercising can help to take your mind off things that are bothering you by causing your body to release endorphins which make you feel good, improve your quality of sleep, and increase self-confidence!

Exercise also provides many physical benefits that can help you to relieve your IBS symptoms. Having a strong body helps improve your overall health. Think of it like this, if your body is feeling sluggish, your digestive system is also going to feel sluggish. But if you’re keeping up with your fitness and exercise, your digestive system will be a little more happy. With that being said, it is always important to identify the foods and behaviours that trigger your IBS symptoms, because if you miss that step, exercise alone isn’t going to be a cure-all!

Research published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology has shown that people with IBS who exercise regularly have less severe symptoms compared to those who don’t exercise. These findings suggest that exercising regularly will help to decrease the severity of your IBS.


Exercise for IBS: What to Avoid

Some forms of exercise can be harder on the digestive system. In general, high intensity exercises may aggravate symptoms and lead to unwanted IBS flare-ups. High intensity exercises may aggravate symptoms more for those who suffer from the diarrhea subtype of IBS, as these types of exercises may cause things in your digestive system to move along too quickly … and lead to you running to the toilet!

If you are new to exercise, it may be best not to start with these types of exercise. However, there is nothing concrete that says you absolutely should not do these exercises if you’re living with IBS or digestive health issues. If you love running and it works for you, feel free to run as much as you want! Keep in mind that when it comes to all exercise recommendations, it really depends on you. What works for someone else may not work for you, and vice versa. So play around a little bit and see what works for your body. Take everything at your own pace, and try not to push yourself too hard 😉

Wondering what else affects symptoms of IBS like gas, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation? You’ve got to understand more about the FODMAPs, poorly digested sugars that are the most common triggers in digestive issues. Download my free eBook – Click here to get a copy emailed to you right away.

Here are a few examples of high intensity exercises to avoid if you have IBS:


Running is a high impact exercise that can put some strain on the body. The up and down bouncing between strides can lead to cramping and diarrhea, symptoms that I don’t think anyone wants to experience mid-run out on the trail. With that being said, running can be manageable for those with IBS. If running is something that you really want to do, it is important to start out slowly and ease into the intensity and duration of runs. I suggest starting out on a treadmill first, incase IBS symptoms come unannounced during your run so you can be close to a washroom if need be!


Crossfit seems to be a popular form of exercise. Hitting those high intensity WODs with a loaded barbell can be beneficial for strength and cardiovascular fitness, however, the nature of these hard and fast movements tends to aggravate the digestive system. If weight lifting is something that you’re interested in, it may be beneficial to start out slowly instead of jumping into the intense, competitive environment of crossfit.

HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)

For those of you who don’t know, high intensity interval training, commonly referred to as HIIT, is a very high intensity type of exercise that involves you pushing yourself the hardest you can in a set amount of time. These exercises tend to get your heart rate up pretty high, and can be great for improving your overall fitness. However, this also gets your nervous system response up and going which can lead to digestive upset such as cramping, diarrhea, and gas.

Ball Sports

Ball sports include things like basketball, soccer, volleyball, the list goes on! While these types of activities may be fun and social, the intensity at which you play them might be impacting your digestive health. These activities include motions of jumping, running and moving abruptly which can all cause upset to your tummy. Instead of playing in a competitive league, a recreational team might be a better option to ease into things and better manage your symptoms. Nothing says you can’t play ball sports if you have IBS, just be cautious if you’re feeling unwell and be mindful of your movements and how they’re affecting your body.


Exercise for IBS: What to Include

Exercises that may be more suitable for those with IBS are lower impact activities. I bet you’re thinking that low intensity exercise isn’t going to give you as good of a workout as high intensity. In some aspects, that may be true. But, as a matter of fact, lower-intensity exercise can give you a good workout that is just as beneficial to your health, and a lot easier on your digestive system! If you’re new to exercise, low intensity exercise is a great place for beginners to start out.


Does walking really do anything for you? Of course it does! Even walking for just 30 minutes a day gives you great benefits. Walking regularly can help you to maintain a healthy weight, strengthen your muscles and bones, improve your balance, brighten your mood, and manage stress. We’re talking more of a brisk walk here, but if you feel like just a leisurely walk through the park is all you can do, that’s okay too! Staying active and moving your body every day helps keep you strong, which in turn helps your IBS. Try creating a walking group within your friends, coworkers, family or neighbours. This is a great way to stay motivated and keep each other accountable.


Yoga is a growing trend these days and has many benefits, not only for your body, but for your mind. To find out some more about the benefits of yoga and good yoga poses for IBS read this post. Practicing yoga allows you to strengthen and lengthen your muscles at the same time. It gives you a good stretch while also toning your body and muscles. Yoga also provides time to relax, and just breathe. This is very beneficial for when you’re feeling stressed and need to recenter. Another benefit of yoga is allowing you to connect your mind to your body, which can aid in a better understanding of what your body needs and doesn’t need. This can be a great way to dive deeper into identifying your triggers.


Biking is another low intensity exercise that you can do that is gentle on your body, yet gives you a great workout. This exercise is a good alternative to running that can still boost your cardiovascular fitness without having the harsh impact. Biking can be done indoors or out when the weather permits, so you can also get a good dose of immune-boosting vitamin D while you’re at it!


Swimming is also a great alternative to running. Since there is no force of pounding like running or jumping, this type of exercise is pretty gentle on the body and allows for a great workout. Swimming can be more than just doing laps of the pool! Keep your eye out for an aqua-fit class at your local pool that can be a good lower intensity form of aerobic exercise!


Tips for Exercising with IBS

Remember that exercising with IBS can be a little different than if you had perfect digestive health. It’s important to tune into what works for you and what you can handle. You may be used to exercising, or maybe you’re completely new to exercise and want to get started. Wherever you’re at doesn’t matter! All that matters is to do what works for you and try to get your body moving. Start out small and work your way up. Low intensity exercises are good for you and you will see benefits if you stick with them. For more tips on exercising with IBS check out this post.


Including exercise in your life can be a key part of managing your IBS and digestive health problems. Exercise has many benefits that play into managing IBS such as keeping your body strong, improving your cardiovascular fitness and stamina, and reducing stress. Starting with lower intensity exercises is the best idea if you are new to exercise or are experiencing an IBS symptom flare-up. You can build your way up if you want to, but it is important to always listen to your body no matter what it is you’re doing. To learn more about what your body is trying to tell you or to identify your specific triggers, join me in the CLAIRITY Program.


Wishing you much love & wellness,



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