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Manage Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) with lifestyle changes and exercise

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man sitting outdoors enjoying lifeMany people seek ways to manage bouts of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) with lifestyle changes and exercise in lieu of taking medications. Living with irritable bowel syndrome can be challenging. Still, implementing some reasonably simple strategies makes coping effectively and improving quality of life possible. We can only present a short guide to a few of the recommended strategies. Remember to consult a healthcare professional to receive personalized advice and guidance based on your needs and medical history. With patience, self-care, and support, managing IBS and leading a fulfilling life is possible. IBS doesn’t have a very focused cause-and-effect relationship, and often something that worked for one person doesn’t work for another and can even fail to provide relief for the same person the next time the syndrome hits. We went into more depth in a similar article that explained more about what can cause IBS and what the different types and symptoms often are. This article presents Q&As that address how IBS can best be handled without running to the medicine chest. However, where it’s relevant, some references will be made to what can help in concert with non-pharmaceutical therapy.


How can I cope and live with irritable bowel syndrome?

Living with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can be challenging, but several strategies and lifestyle changes can help you cope effectively. While consulting with a healthcare professional for personalized advice is essential, here are some general tips to help you manage and live better with IBS.
  • Identify and manage trigger foods such as fatty or deep-fried foods, dairy products, caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods, and some artificial sweeteners. Keep a food diary to help track and identify patterns between your symptoms and the foods you consume. 
  • Eat a healthy and balanced diet that supports overall digestive health. While adequate amounts of fiber-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains can help regulate bowel movements, beware in case you are sensitive to the types of insoluble fiber found in wheat bran or some vegetables like legumes and beans. 
  • Engaging in stress management is key. Stress and anxiety can significantly impact IBS symptoms, so practicing stress management techniques such as deep breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation, yoga, or engaging in hobbies that you find relaxing into your daily routine is an excellent way to reduce stress levels and promote overall well-being. 
  • Staying hydrated by drinking adequate water is essential for maintaining blood viscosity and supporting optimal digestion. Hydration can help soften the stool and prevent constipation, a characteristic of IBS-C. Aim to drink at least eight cups (64 fluid ounces or two liters) of plain cool water daily.
  • Engage in regular physical activity, which has numerous benefits for individuals with IBS, as we explain further in response to the following query. Aim for at least thirty minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, swimming, or cycling, on most days of the week. 
If you have any underlying health conditions, consult with your healthcare professional before starting any new exercise regimen, especially if it’s something you have yet to engage in before or for a long time. Consult reputable sources and discuss any concerns or questions with your healthcare provider. It’s essential to consult with a qualified healthcare professional and to follow their advice before incorporating any of the above alternative therapies into your treatment plan, which can already incorporate medications, such as antispasmodics (Imodium or Lomotil), laxatives, or antidepressants, to help alleviate specific symptoms. It’s important to follow their instructions carefully, communicate any changes in symptoms, and attend regular follow-up appointments. Above all, be patient and adaptable. Managing IBS requires patience and a willingness to adapt your lifestyle as needed. Finding the right combination of strategies and treatments that work best for you may take time. Remember that everyone’s experience with IBS is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. Stay positive, keep track of your symptoms and triggers, and remain open to trying new approaches.

How does exercise and going outside improve gut health?

Regular exercise and outdoor time can positively affect gut health, especially for individuals with irritable bowel syndrome who want to manage IBS without medications. While the exact mechanisms are not fully understood, several factors contribute to the beneficial effects of exercise and outdoor activities on the gut. Here are some ways in which exercise and spending time outside can improve gut health:
  • Exercise increases the contractions of the intestinal muscles, a process known as gut motility. Improved gut motility can aid in efficient food movement through the digestive tract, reducing the likelihood of symptoms such as bloating and abdominal discomfort.
  • Exercise that is structured to stimulate the muscles in the wall of the abdomen, as well as those in the intestines, helps promote regular bowel movements. A few specific types of exercise that can work directly to help are:
    • Aerobic exercise gets your heart rate up and can have a positive impact on bowel regularity. Activities such as brisk walking, jogging, running, cycling, swimming, or dancing can help stimulate the abdominal muscles and increase blood flow to the intestines, facilitating regular bowel movements. 
    • Yoga combines physical postures, deep breathing, and mindfulness, making it an excellent exercise option for promoting bowel regularity. 
    • Pilates works to strengthen the core muscles, including the abdominal muscles, which can help improve gut motility and promote regular bowel movements
    • Tai Chi is a gentle exercise that combines flowing movements, deep breathing, and meditation. The slow and controlled movements involved in Tai Chi can help stimulate the abdominal muscles and improve gut motility
    • Core-strengthening exercises working on the core muscles can improve the function of the abdominal muscles and support healthy bowel movements.

Is it bad to leave Irritable Bowel Syndrome untreated?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is not a life-threatening condition, but it substantially impacts the quality of life. In the long term, untreated IBS can cause some physical changes, most notably hemorrhoids due to constipation and frequent urinary tract infections caused by diarrhea, most often in women. Although there are no cures available, reducing the frequency and degree of discomfort of the symptoms can positively affect mood and overall quality of life, so the disorder should be handled using known methods and techniques. 

What relieves IBS symptoms?

A controlled and monitored diet is probably the most important tool that can reduce the frequency and degree of IBS onsets. Stress exacerbates IBS symptoms, so managing stress through exercise can directly improve gut health. Lower stress levels help to alleviate symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, and changes in bowel habits. Spending time outdoors in a natural environment, especially when engaging in regular exercise, has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety levels. The immune system plays a crucial role in maintaining gut health. It can help protect the gut from infections, inflammation, and other disruptions contributing to IBS symptoms. Regular exercise is known to boost the immune system.

How do I keep a healthy intestine?

Physical activity can help prevent constipation, a common symptom especially prominent in IBS-C. A short spell of 30 to 45 minutes of mid-level exercise has dual benefits when trying to manage IBS. Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural mood-boosting chemicals. Strengthening the abdominal and intestinal muscles can help maintain a regular flow of food through the colon.  By controlling the kinds of foods eaten as well as the combinations, it’s possible to avoid many of the triggers that set off a bout of IBS.  In summary, by enhancing fitness, mood and overall quality of life, you can positively impact gut health and reduce the severity and frequency of IBS attacks.

How does walking help your digestion and overall health?

There are many benefits that people with IBS get from regular exercise, and walking is one of the best providers of those benefits when they manage IBS. Apart from the specifics relating to digestion, it’s been established that a modest but structured exercise program that comprises a half-hour walk at least five days a week will increase cardiovascular fitness, strengthen bones, reduce excess body fat, and boost muscle power and endurance. Walking gives you the time to put aside any daily cares. In many different ways, a half-hour break allows you to focus on yourself, your friends, pets and family. Walking the dog, joining a social club, pushing a stroller with a family member, visiting a new park, or varying the route or time of day are all ways to make each walk an adventure where you are not just tuning your body but at the same time recharging your emotional batteries. You can come out of each walk refreshed and relaxed, which can push IBS out of the picture for a while at least. 

How to get rid of IBS bloating?

The feeling of being extended or bloated arises mainly because gas is being created by the trillions of microbes in the intestines that feed on food as it passes through. The body has a symbiotic relationship with the gut microbiome, and neither can flourish without the other. The production of gas is a natural outcome of the actions of these microbes, but for people with IBS, the sense of being bloated can be coming from an excess of gas resulting from some imbalance in the microbiome. Also, frequent flare-ups of excess gas can give rise to extra sensitivity to the discomfort because nerve endings in the intestinal walls become sensitized, resulting in an overly sensitive colon. As we said, the production of gas can’t be stopped, but regulating the volume or frequency of bloating can be achieved with some basic steps. People should consider what foods have been known to trigger bloating and stay away from these. Consideration can also be given to whether the bloating onsets after eating late at night and then going straight to bed. Posture and activity can both improve the mobility of food inside the gut, and this affects how gas gets to accumulate or escape. Some OTC remedies for excess gas can be purchased, but no prescription meds exist. If the levels of discomfort are persistent and rising, a consultation with a professional healthcare specialist or gastroenterologist may be necessary.

Which yoga poses are good for bloating and constipation?

Certain yoga poses, such as twists and forward bends, can help massage the abdominal area and stimulate digestion. The practice of deep breathing during yoga also promotes relaxation, which can aid in relieving stress-related symptoms of IBS. 
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