Physical activity may help reduce gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms in people who are obese.
In a study published in the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, researchers found that a high body mass index (BMI) and lack of physical activity were associated with an increase in GI symptoms such as stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Obesity is a chronic disease that has become a major health problem in the United States and around the world. In fact, many patients who are seen by gastroenterologists are overweight or obese. Over the last 20 years, obesity has emerged as the most important nutrition problem in the United States.
Researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle and the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis found that obese people who incorporated some form of physical activity into their routine suffered less from GI symptoms than others who were inactive. High BMI was associated with an increase in symptoms of IBS, abdominal pain and diarrhea and binge eating was associated with an increase in abdominal pain, constipation and bloating. Of those participating in the study, more than 13 percent had IBS and nearly 6 percent were binge eaters. On average, participants in this study were classified as obese, with an average BMI of 33.
"It is well-documented that maintaining a healthy diet and regular physical activity can benefit GI health," said Rona L. Levy, PhD, lead study author and professor at the University of Washington in Seattle. "Our study is the first to show the benefit of maintaining these healthy habits and staving off the occurrence of GI symptoms in obese people. These findings have future implications for the treatment of both obesity and various GI disorders and symptoms that are more prevalent in this population."
Data collected from 1,801 men and women enrolled in a 24-month randomized trial evaluating telephone- and mail-based interventions for weight loss was used in this study. Participants were members of a Managed Care Organization and were randomized to one of three groups: a mail-based weight intervention using prepared lessons that gave nutrition and physical activity tips; a telephone-based weight intervention with a trained counselor that also used prepared lessons; or a usual care group who did not receive specific weight loss instructions, but were allowed access to telephone and clinic-based weight loss counseling at modest cost. Study participation was based on eligibility factors, such as age, gender, smoking status, amount of physical activity, BMI and binge eating status.
The average body weight of Americans has increased by approximately 10 percent during the last 20 years, with more than half the adult population being overweight and nearly one in every three adults diagnosed as obese. Adopting a diet rich with fruits and vegetables and increasing physical activity are two simple ways to control weight and lead a healthier lifestyle.
"Potential reduction of GI symptoms is yet another reason for obese people to consider engaging in physical activity," said Levy. "It could mean the difference between leading a normal life or leading one filled with constant discomfort."