by Michelle Sutton-Kerchner
A healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise and a nutritious diet, reduces stress and the conditions it triggers. Correct the irregularities of irritable bowel syndrome with consistent exercise and other healthy habits …
Although irritable bowel syndrome (“IBS” as familiarly called) does not cause permanent colon damage, it can be destructive to one’s daily life. Its unpredictable onset of cramping and bathroom trips can have morning commuters tied up in more than traffic delays.
Unlike some gastrointestinal disorders, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, IBS does not increase the sufferer’s risk of colorectal cancer or bowel tissue damage. This affords a little extra time and experimentation in its treatment. Before medicating the condition, which can be harmful with misuse of over-the-counter laxatives and anti-diarrheals, move for a natural approach.
It is best to visit a physician for a clinical diagnosis. Symptoms of IBS often overlap with more serious inflammatory bowel diseases. These should be eliminated to allow a confident approach to your treatment plan.
Common symptoms of IBS:
- Abdominal pain or cramping
- A bloated feeling; extended stomach
- Excessive gas (flatulence)
- Diarrhea or constipation — sometimes alternating bouts of both
- Mucus in the stool
These signs also can be indicative of a food allergy. For example, a lactose intolerance might exhibit the same symptoms. Most physicians and dieticians recommend keeping a food journal. Regardless of an actual food allergy, those with IBS often discover certain “trigger foods” that cause an episode.
The exact cause of IBS is unknown. Intestine walls are lined with muscles that contract and relax in coordinated rhythms as food travels from the stomach to the intestinal tract and out of the body. For people with IBS, these contractions may be stronger, longer, and uncomfortable. Food quickly speeds through the intestines, which results in gas, bloating, and diarrhea.
On any given day, the opposite might be true for the person with IBS. Food may travel through the digestive process slowly, causing dry stools that are difficult to pass. Abnormalities in serotonin levels, the colon itself, or the nervous system affect normal digestive functioning and, therefore, may hint at why some suffer from this disorder.
How Exercise Helps
Stress and anxiety are major contributing factors to IBS flare-ups. Enjoying a more peaceful and active lifestyle can help ease symptoms of IBS, as well as improve other health issues. Exercise is nature’s antidepressant. It releases feel-good hormones, like serotonin, to combat stress and its effect on the body and mind. It also helps people with IBS cope more easily with the symptoms themselves, which can be stressful, along with their physical and emotional triggers.
“Exercise as part of a behavioral modification regimen is good for IBS. Keeping fit is important. Patients with IBS tend to be less active, and exercise overall is good,” says Norman Gilinsky, MD, a gastroenterologist and associate professor in the department of internal medicine at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio.
Behavior modification is essential in treating IBS. Nerves in the colon control the contractions of colon muscles. During stressful times, these nerves can cause stomach pain, especially in those with IBS who are more sensitive to stress-induced abdominal symptoms. Use an invigorating fitness program to tackle pent-up stress. Leave your troubles at the door and burn frustration as well as fat.
Be sure to take a mindful approach in your exercises. Try to include a direct mind/body routine in your program. Yoga, Pilates, and similar disciplines encourage inner peace along with their physical benefits. The meditative approach is built-in. Some find swimming laps peaceful as they cut through water with their own strength. Find your fitness passion and capitalize on it.
When bouts of constipation hit, the movement of exercise helps ease waste from the body. A study in England showed those with IBS who engaged in moderate exercise for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, reported constipation significantly improved, compared with a sedentary group.
Maximize Your Workout
Those with IBS accomplish the most from their workout by following simple suggestions. To regulate the gastrointestinal tract, one should follow a consistent schedule in other aspects of life. Attempt a steady schedule for the basics of your day: sleep, meals, snacks, and fitness. Tricky with life’s demands, but not impossible.
Aim for some element of continuity in your routine. Experts believe this, along with exercise, trains the body to eliminate waste (within an hour window of) the same time daily. Stop those urgent pit-stops by developing regular bathroom habits.
It is important to be flexible so exercise can be managed on a regular basis. If possible though, at least during an IBS flare-up, try to schedule exercise and meals at regular intervals during the day. Work out during your personal energy peak. Whether early morning or post-dinner, everyone has a peak period when most motivated. And, always begin a workout either an hour before or after eating.
The IBS Diet
For the most successful nutrition plan, it’s important to keep a food journal. By tracking what is consumed and symptom presentation, you and your healthcare provider can create a plan for a happy stomach. This task also proves helpful for those monitoring weight. Weight-loss success is often easier when tracking food intake. It provides the reality of what is consumed, which tends to differ from what we think. Although food journaling takes time, the investment pays in multiple ways. You’ll likely discover your true eating habits, and how they make you feel.
Consult with the Center’s nutritionist to further investigate your best food choices based on symptoms and needs. A nutritionist can also help determine if symptoms are related to a food sensitivity or allergy rather than IBS. Identifying food intolerances is essential in managing IBS.
- Fatty or fried foods
- Caffeinated, carbonated, and alcoholic beverages (Hence, flat– not fizzy– ginger ale is recommended for stomach upset.)
- Red meat
- Coffee (even decaf) and chocolate
- Dairy products
- Foods high in insoluble fiber
- Artificial sweeteners, especially sorbitol (Note: Sugar- free chewing gum, which is sometimes used to soothe an upset tummy, usually contains these sweeteners.)
Focus on low-fat foods, which are more easily digested. Eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day. The goal: Demand less work from your digestive system by wisely choosing foods, and how and when they’re eaten. The stomach can get overwhelmed just like the rest of the body.
Those with IBS may lack the correct balance of good bacteria in their intestines. Probiotics can be effective in decreasing symptoms. These are found in dietary supplements or in foods like yogurt, which contain living bacteria such as acidophilus.
Probiotics provide an intestinal coating of beneficial bacteria. They are also helpful when taking antibiotics, which sometimes eliminate the good bacteria while killing the bad. Other foods are now being modified to contain probiotics for gastrointestinal health. Become a label reader in the grocery store to find this ingredient, as well as negative ones that can exacerbate IBS.
Those who suffer from this condition are not alone. There are cookbooks, nutrition seminars, and support groups that cater to this population. Whether you actually discuss IBS or simply vent about its distresses and learn a better way of coping, you’re sure to gain relief.
No one has time for IBS and its inconveniences and discomfort. Life is waiting. Regular exercise and a proper diet can be the steady solution to this unsteady stomach.
“Cooking for the IBS Patient,” by Brian Hoyle at www.everydayhealth.com.
“Exercise May Help IBS Symptoms,” by Diana Rodriguez at www.everydayhealth.com.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome at www.mayoclinic.com.
Boomers on bikes (introductory photo): www.flickr.com/photos/hygienematters/4275577339/