This is the time of year when people start or return to the gym to focus on the number one New Year’s resolution, to get into shape and be healthy. However, if you have a digestive disorder, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), celiac disease, lactose intolerance, or fructose malabsorption, exercise can cause nausea, acid reflux, diarrhea, constipation, and cramping. Additionally, finding the motivation to work out is tough enough for most of us, convincing oneself to go to the gym when dealing with fatigue, brain fog, joint pain, and bloating, makes it even harder.
If exercise is supposed to be so good for us, why does it cause digestive issues? When you work out, the blood that was flowing to your digestive system and helping to digest food is redirected to your muscles. This and how hydrated you are can affect how much water is reabsorbed from the intestines into the body during the process of digestion. The stimulation of exercise can also affect the contractions of the intestinal wall and the motility of its contents. All of this together can lead to diarrhea or constipation and cramping. In terms of acid reflux, when you bend over your bike or prepare to lift weights, you put pressure on your stomach which may move stomach acid back into the esophagus.
These challenges may deter people from exercising. However, there are benefits to exercise if you have digestive disorders. In addition to walking, yoga (poses to help with digestion), pilates, stretching, and tai chi can alleviate symptoms and facilitate digestion. They can also reduce stress and improve your mood and sleep, which can help you manage your symptoms better. These are all low impact exercises that involve deep abdominal breathing which can increase your heart rate and circulation, relax tight muscles, and twist and massage your abdominal organs. They promote healthy contraction and motility resulting in normal bowel movements and reduced cramping. These exercises also have the added benefit of decreasing bloating and gas. The seated heart opener yoga pose can even help stretch and relax your stomach after that really good meal where you ate too much.
If you suffer from an increase in symptoms when working out, here are some tips that can help reduce problems during and after exercise. The first one is to stay hydrated to avoid constipation (do not drink carbonated drinks, which can lead to bloating). Secondly, do not forget to breathe. I find this to be a tough one to remember and even though I have been doing Pilates for over a year, there are times when my instructor needs to tell me to breathe. Deep abdominal breath helps digestion by improving circulation and the removal of wastes and toxins from your body. Breathing also reduces stress. Thirdly, as mom always says, don’t go swimming right after you eat. It is important not to exercise right after a meal so your blood flow focuses on digesting your food instead of on your muscles. Also, if you eat before or during exercise, consume simple carbohydrates or protein that are easy to digest and avoid any trigger foods. Fourthly, if you are not feeling well or are having a flare up, either slow down your pace to decrease your heart rate so the blood can flow back to your digestive system, take a break from exercising, or choose a low impact exercise instead.
So, hopefully, whether you have the number one New Year’s resolution on your list or are just looking for a new exercise, you will find these to be helpful suggestions and digestive issues won’t be the reason you avoid the gym.
What is your favorite type of exercise to help alleviate digestive problems?
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