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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Health Center

Exercise Cuts Irritable Bowel, Other Gut Woes

Active Obese People Have Less Gut Pain, Fewer IBS Symptoms
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What You Do Affects How You Feel continued...

"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 says.

"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 of it."

If that's so, it doesn't matter, says Levy, a licensed psychologist and social worker who sees many patients with gastrointestinal symptoms and irritable bowel syndrome. If patients report fewer symptoms, it means patients feel better. And feeling better is a key to getting better.

"Sometimes people label their symptoms in ways that are maladaptive," Levy says. "So if they have some symptom such as pain or gas they may catastrophize and think, 'Oh, I may have cancer,' or, 'There is something wrong with me.' That can make people restrict their lives more and more. It can become a downward spiral."

Part of getting patients over this, she says, is encouraging patients to eat appropriately and exercise daily. Other treatments for IBS include watching your diet by avoiding gas-producing foods and adding fiber to your diet for control of diarrhea or constipation. Stress relaxation techniques may also help you control stressful situations that may trigger the condition.

Levy is now studying treatments for children and teens who suffer recurring abdominal pain. Seattle-area parents interested in the NIH-funded study -- in which children receive free treatment -- may call (206) 616-2358.

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