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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Exercise

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

There is evidence that regular physical activity may reduce and improve the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). In a recent study in 2011, researchers noted in a closely monitored and controlled trial that this indeed is true. They based their study on the premise that exercises and physical activity has been shown to be effective in the treatment of conditions, such as fibromyalgia and depression.

These conditions have been often associated with irritable bowel syndrome and there are no studies that definitively assess the exact benefits of physical activity on gastrointestinal symptoms in irritable bowel syndrome.

Researchers Johansson and colleagues at University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden gathered 102 participants and put them randomly into two groups – one was the group that was to be instructed by a physiotherapist to increase their physical activity and the other was to be instructed to maintain their lifestyle. A scoring system was devised to assess for severity of the symptoms of the diseases (the IBS Severity Scoring System).

Results showed that 38 patients in the control group and 37 patients in the physical activity group completed the study. Of those in the control group 73.7% were women and were of a median age of 38.5 (range of 19-65) years. Of the exercise group 75.7% were women and were of a median age of 36 (range of 18-65) years.

There was a significant difference in the improvement in the IBS-SSS score between the physical activity group and the control group. The scores improved by about 51 in the exercise group and 5 in the control group.

Furthermore the proportion of patients with increased IBS symptom severity during the study was significantly larger in the control group than in the physical activity group.

The study concluded that regular physical activity improves GI symptoms in irritable bowel syndrome and physically active patients with the condition will face less symptom deterioration compared with physically inactive patients. Researchers suggested that physical activity should be used as a primary treatment modality in irritable bowel syndrome.

Reviewed by , BA Hons (Cantab)

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Last Updated: Mar 24, 2013

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