Physical Activity Reduces Symptoms of IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) has a strong association with psychological stress. Physical activity can induce changes in the brain and reduce stress levels. These physically induced brain changes can improve the functions of the stomach and intestines. This study showed that physical activity is beneficial for patients of IBS. It was seen that physically active women scored better in emotions, sleep, energy and physical functioning than the control group. They also had less severe symptoms of IBS.

Irritable bowel syndrome is a common abdominal disorder with symptoms of pain, discomfort and altered bowel movements. The causes of IBS are not related to primary diseases of the stomach or intestines. Psychological factors play an important role in this disorder. Physical activity is known to decrease abdominal distension and correct altered intestinal movements. It has been documented that women suffering from IBS are known to be less physically active. Whether IBS prevented these women from being physically active or whether being physically inactive worsened their symptoms was not known. The primary aim of the current study was to test if increased physical activity decreased the severity of IBS symptoms. Its secondary aim was to document the effects of physical activity on quality of life, psychological symptoms, passage of gas and fatigue in IBS patients.

* This study involved 102 people with a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Of these, 50 participated in additional physical activity and 52 were studied as the control group.
* The physical activity group increased their cardio-respiratory fitness with 20 to 60 minutes of intensive physical activity performed three to five days a week. The control group was instructed to continue with their normal lifestyle. Both groups kept a diary of their activities.
* After 12 weeks, the participants from both groups were tested by using questionnaires; and participants were measured for food passage time, weight, oxygen uptake and bowel movement consistency. The participant’s diaries were also reviewed.

* The IBS score indicating severity of symptoms decreased by more than 50 numbers in 45 percent of the participants in the physical group; while this was noted in 26 percent of the control group participants.
* The IBS score indicating severity of symptoms increased by more than 50 in just 8 percent of the physical group; while this was noted in 23 percent of the control group.
* In the physical activity group, the disease-specific quality of life improved significantly in aspects of emotion, sleep, energy, physical functioning, social and physical role, compared to the control group.
* Oxygen uptake increased in the physical activity group, from 2.36 to 2.47 liters per minute, whereas there was no significant change in the control group.

Next steps/Shortcoming
The study found that although disease-specific QOL was improved after physical exercise, the overall health-related QOL was not significantly changed. A possible reason might be that this was a short study lasting only 12 weeks. To perceive changes in overall health, a longer study time may be better. Hence, effects of long-term physical activity on symptoms and quality of life in IBS should be studied.

This study showed that increased physical activity improves abdominal symptoms in IBS. Physically active patients with IBS will have less symptoms of deterioration compared to physically inactive patients. The study authors conclude, “This is an important message to patients that their symptoms may increase if they are physically inactive.” Other studies have found that physical activity could change brain functioning and reduce stress, a cause of IBS. Hence, physical activity could be used as a primary treatment for people suffering from IBS.

For More Information:
Physical Activity Improves Symptoms in Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Randomized Controlled Trial
Publication Journal: American Journal of Gastroenterology, January 2011
By Elisabet Johannesson; Magnus Simrén; Department of Internal Medicine, Institute of Medicine, Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

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