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Do You Suffer From Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)? How to fight back with exercise!

It is thought that between 10-15% of the population suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptoms such as abdominal pains, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea and stomach cramps.

IBS is a common, long-term condition of the digestive system which affects some sufferers more severely than others.

These symptoms are certainly not pleasant for the sufferer and can have a major impact on everyday life.

Whilst the exact cause of IBS is often unknown, there are many things a sufferer can do to reduce the likelihood of ‘flare-ups’ or reduce the impact when they strike!

There is significant research into the impact of exercise on IBS, and it seems pretty conclusive that regular exercise can improve life for an IBS sufferer.

One such study conducted and tabulated in the journal ‘Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology’ concluded that the higher the Body Mass Index (BMI) of the individual the more likely they would suffer gastrointestinal (GI) pain.

On the flip-side it stated that a healthy diet combined with regular physical exercise more likely results in fewer GI symptoms.

Why is this?

Well, let’s look at the condition and what we know. Stress is considered to be one of the chief triggers of IBS symptoms.

And we know that exercise is widely considered as one of the best stress relievers out there, both for physical and mental stress!

Also, during exercise the body becomes warmer and blood flows to more parts.

This usually results in the bowel having less blood present, thus seeing it in a more relaxed and ‘calmer’ state.

Whilst this is true actually during the act of exercise, it is also thought that the fitter you become the more relaxed the bowel will be during none exercise times as well!

So, if you are an IBS sufferer, what exercises should you be doing?

Well, whilst I would suggest that any physical exercise is better than none, the following are particular great for reducing stress and putting the body in the best possible state to combat IBS symptoms:-

1) Yoga: As well as relieving stress, Yoga promotes relaxation by increasing the flow of blood and oxygen to each and every part of the body.

2) Walking, swimming, cycling, skipping, dancing, jogging and compound weight training: A number of studies suggest that short bursts of high-intensity activities don’t appear to offer as many relief benefits as a steadier rate of activity when it comes to IBS sufferers.

3) Pilates: This form of exercise is superb for managing stress by connecting the mind and body.

Obviously, exercise is always easiest and most appealing when you are feeling well and in good health.

However, when IBS symptoms strike it would actually be of benefit if you could engage in some form of physical exercise!

I’m often also asked what foods I should eat, or avoid, with regard to IBS.

Right, for starters always aim to schedule your exercise at least a couple of hours after you have eaten meal.

Now, getting onto what shouldn’t be eaten/drunk…….

Whilst as individuals we are all different, and this certainly applies to IBS, I would initially start my elimination process at the doors of gluten and lactose!

Whilst I admit it is not always easy, but by cutting out gluten and lactose it could literally be a life changing decision for an IBS sufferer!

Humans are not designed to process gluten because the intestine lining simply does not absorb it! This is even worse for people who suffer from IBS!

And whilst its not easy to always find gluten/lactose free products, most food businesses in England are starting to offer these options in the mainstream.

Most restaurants now offer a gluten free menu, and just about every supermarket now has a large gluten free section containing breads, beers, wines, and pasta…(have I covered the essentials!?)

With regard to lactose, it travels through the large intestine without being thoroughly digested.

This can cause annoying symptoms, particularly to IBS sufferers, in the form of stomach cramps, gas and severe bloating!

The key with giving up lactose is cutting out dairy products. There are lots of dairy-free alternatives on the market such as Flax, Hemp, Soya, Almond, Rice and Coconut based products.

And change your standard Cow’s milk for Soya or Almond milk, after a while you won’t notice the difference!

I’d also suggest that carbonated ‘fizzy’ drinks should be avoided by IBS sufferers.

Such drinks cause unwanted gas to get stuck in your stomach – a common cause of bloating!

So, I’ve told you lots of things you shouldn’t be having, but what can you add to your diet that can help you’re probably asking!?

Well, Peppermint in any form – capsules, tea or oil – all seem to work!


Having a regular exercise routine will most certainly improve your physical fitness and control your stress levels better.

Reducing, or ideally eliminating, gluten, lactose and carbonated drinks should also be something you look to implement.

As all of these are extremely useful in fighting back against IBS, I would strongly advise that sufferers make exercise and diet a big part of their lifestyle going forward.

Ian David Worthington
Creator, Owner and Coach at

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