5 Exercises to Avoid If You Suffer from IBS and What Are Your Alternatives

Exercise might be the last thing on your mind as an IBS patient, but science proves that becoming more active might just be what you need to manage IBS symptoms. However, some exercises are known to worsen symptoms instead of improving them.

So, what exercises should you avoid when you have IBS? The rule of thumb is to avoid anything that involves intense movements and rapid bouncing. These include Crossfit, running, ball sports, HIIT circuits, and boxing and martial arts.

Despite these restrictions, there are other exercises available to IBS patients that will strengthen the body without negatively affecting your gastrointestinal system.

IBS and Exercise

How Can Exercise Affect IBS? 

IBS patients experience episodes of diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain. These symptoms come and go depending on one’s lifestyle choices. Maintaining a nutritious, IBS-friendly diet and adopting healthy eating habits are the most important factors in managing IBS symptoms.

Learn more: Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Symptoms and Causes

The relationship between IBS and exercise isn’t so straightforward. On the one hand, exercise has been proven to improve patient symptoms. Engaging in 30 to 40 minutes of exercise daily for at least 3 months is proven to be useful in managing pain and regulating bowel movements.

Meanwhile, too much exercise could also exacerbate IBS symptoms. The risk of gut damage increases with exercise duration and intensity, making the gut more vulnerable to pathogenic attacks. Abnormal mucus discharge can occur in the gastrointestinal system, which can lead to bacterial cultivation. Over-exercising can lead to an unstable gut, and as a result, worsen pre-existing IBS symptoms.

If your IBS is out of control, our gastroenterologist can help and provide clear guidance.

Can IBS Patients Still Exercise? 

Yes, provided that the exercise is low to moderate in intensity. In fact, exercise can prove beneficial to IBS patients as long as they choose activities that won’t aggravate the gut. However, not all exercises are created equally so it’s important to be mindful of how certain movements affect your symptoms. 

We recommend taking an exercise log to help you identify which exercises are worsening your IBS symptoms. Certain alterations to stressful movements can also be done in order to reap the full benefits of a specific exercise, without having to worry about suffering through exercise-induced consequences. 

Incorporating Exercise In a Patient’s Routine

As a patient experiencing diarrhea or constipation, exercising might be the last thing on your list. But studies have shown that incorporating an exercise routine, even something as simple as reaching a 10,000 step count every day, is important in managing your overall health. 

Milder exercises can also pave the way to more advanced exercises. If you aren’t keen on doing yoga or pilates, you can start off with some basic stretching in the morning coupled with light walking. Eventually, your body will get used to the amount of physical activity and you’ll be able to do advanced exercises without any problems. 

Get in touch with a trainer or fitness instructor who is informed with gastrointestinal problems. Together you can create a fitness routine that will be beneficial for your health while ensuring that your gastrointestinal system won’t be irritated. 

IBS and Weight Gain

Another reason to adopt an exercise routine is to prevent weight gain. Although uncommon, IBS patients may gain excess weight due to hormonal changes and dietary restrictions. With a proper exercise regimen, IBS patients can stay in shape without worsening symptoms. 

Read more: Can IBS Cause Weight Gain and What Can You Do About It

Top Exercises to Avoid, and What to Do Instead

Not all exercises are beneficial to the body, especially for people who are trying to get their IBS symptoms under control. Below are the top 5 exercises to be avoided if you are suffering from IBS symptoms:

1. Running

man running

Running is the go-to exercise for enhancing cardiovascular strength. It’s also a great way to tone your legs and speed up the fat loss process. However, running might not be the best option for IBS patients.

Even with multiple health benefits, running usually leads to abdominal cramping, which may trigger diarrhea and worsen abdominal pain. Jogging might produce a similar effect due to the bouncing motion involving the torso. 

Alternative: Instead of running, consider something a little more low impact like brisk walking. This exercise is gentle on the knees and won’t require a rapid bouncing motion that may upset the stomach. 10,000 steps daily is the recommended step count for a healthier lifestyle. 

For a more challenging session, try walking up and down the stairs or an inclined plane in order to increase your heart rate. 

2. Sports Involving Balls

Sports are another fantastic way to get exercise, but unfortunately for IBS patients, the quick rapid movements and roughness that sometimes come from ball sports may prove too irritating for the stomach. 

Ball sports specifically basketball, volleyball, football (both American and European), and tennis require full body movements that could trigger muscle spasms in the abdomen. This could translate to an irritated stomach for IBS patients. 

Alternative: Ball sports are beneficial to the body because they combine strength training with cardiovascular exercise. Biking is a low intensity exercise that provides both benefits. It’s a good alternative to running and ball sports because it engages the full body and allows cardiovascular training, without putting stress on the gut. 

While biking on its own can already be a challenging exercise, you can raise the intensity by going up an inclined path. Just make sure you track your heart rate so you don’t overexert yourself. 

3. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

HIIT workouts usually come in the form of 5-10 exercises done in 60-second intervals. The idea behind HIIT is to push your body for at least 60 seconds before resting for a 30-second period. Naturally, this kind of exercise can make your gut suffer, leading to diarrhea and abdominal pain. 

Alternative: Low-intensity alternatives such as yoga and pilates are a great way to engage the muscles, minus the intensity of HIIT. However, beware of poses and moves that require tilting since this might irritate the stomach. You can always talk to your instructor for movement modifications that are safe to IBS patients. 

4. Crossfit and Intense Weight Training

Like HIIT, Crossfit requires powerful, sudden bursts of movement that engages the full body. It’s common for Crossfit athletes to perform 4-8 repetitions of heavy-weight, high-power exercise in order to reap the full benefits of a movement. 

Similarly, unmodified weight training sessions, especially compound lifts such as squatting and deadlifting, require motions that exert pressure on the abdominal area. Aside from the movement, the intensity alone can prove too stressful to the body and lead to exercise-induced IBS. 

Alternative: IBS patients don’t have to steer clear of weight training altogether. But instead of compound lifts, focus on lower weight and high repetition movements in order to build muscle. 

Replace exercises involving bars and barbells for dumbbells and machines. This way, you take much of the load off from your own body, allowing you to focus your strength on individual muscle groups instead of relying on full and total body strength. 

5. Boxing and Martial Arts

red boxing gloves and boxer sitting

Boxing and martial arts involve agile movements and muscle endurance. These sports usually involve sparring with someone, typically a trainer, or sometimes another student in the same class. Needless to say, both activities, like HIIT, are too intense for patients with IBS. 

Alternative: Instead of high-intensity sports like boxing and martial arts, we suggest switching to physical activities that can still engage full body movement, without the level of intensity usually associated with ball sports. 

Swimming is one of the best exercises for IBS patients, precisely because it engages both the upper body, back, and lower body muscles, without aggravating the gut. Swimming is also a fantastic exercise for your cardiovascular system, meaning you get a full workout just by doing 10-20 laps. 

Improving Your Lifestyle, One Step At a Time

We at Gastro Center in New Jersey are committed in helping you create big changes to your health with even the smallest lifestyle adjustments. With the right fitness program and a suitable nutritional plan, you can manage your IBS symptoms and improve your overall quality of life.

Get in touch with us today to book a consultation.