Exercise Cuts Irritable Bowel, Other Gut Woes
Active Obese People Have Less Gut Pain, Fewer IBS Symptoms
Oct. 3, 2005 -- Obese people have fewer symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome
and less gut pain if they exercise, researchers report.
It shows that a healthy lifestyle is an important part of overcoming
abdominal pain, diarrhea, and other intestinal woes, says Rona L. Levy, PhD, of
the University of Washington in Seattle.
"A lot of times people's irritable bowel syndrome [IBS] has taken over
their lives," Levy tells WebMD. "One of the things one wants to do is
have people live more fulfilling lives rather than have illness be the
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a group of symptoms consisting most
commonly of abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. It occurs in
about one in five Americans -- more commonly in women -- and tends to flare
with emotional stress. Though the intestines are not functioning normally in
IBS there is no anatomical problem that can be seen or measured as a sign of
Exercise/Healthy Diet vs. IBS/Gut Pain
Levy took advantage of a large weight loss study led by University of
Minnesota researcher Robert W. Jeffrey, PhD. Jeffrey and colleagues enrolled
nearly 1,000 obese and overweight men and women in a weight loss study.
Levy asked the study participants about their gut symptoms. Then she and her
colleagues analyzed whether diet and exercise were linked to the severity and
frequency of these problems.
They found that people who were heaviest at the end of the study reported
the most abdominal pain and diarrhea. They also found that a healthy diet --
low fat and high fruit and fiber intake -- and exercise were linked to fewer
But that was only part of the answer. After a more sophisticated analysis,
one factor emerged as the most important predictor of gut symptoms:
"These data give another reason why exercise is a good thing to do, and
that it may reduce the experience of gastrointestinal symptoms," Levy
Levy and colleagues report their findings in the current issue of
Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
What You Do Affects How You Feel
There's no doubt physical activity is good for the gut, says John Affronti,
MD, associate professor of medicine at Emory University and director of
endoscopy at Emory University Hospital.
"Activity in general will increase the activity of the gastrointestinal
tract," Affronti tells WebMD. "After abdominal surgery, for example,
active people regain function more quickly than sedentary people."
But does exercise really make irritable bowels less irritable -- or does it
just make people feel better? It's hard to tell from the Levy study, Affronti
"For people with abdominal pain, one thing is the pain and the other is
the perception of how severe it is," he tells WebMD. "That
psychological component is driven by a lot of things. I wonder if people who do
all these things to get a better lifestyle might want to see good things come