The results of a just published randomised controlled trial (RCT) suggest exercise, or a general increase in physical activity, can have beneficial effects on the digestive symptoms which those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) constantly struggle with.
Swedish researchers from the University of Gothenburg noted that previous studies have shown exercise can improve the symptoms of depression and fibromyalgia, conditions which are often comorbid with IBS, but the effects of exercise on the primary digestive symptoms of IBS had not been properly investigated.
To test whether physical activity had any effect on the gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms of IBS, such as constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, gas and abdominal pain, the scientists randomised 102 IBS patients aged 18-65, to either a physical activity group or a control group.
Participants in the physical activity group worked with a physiotherapist to increase their level of physical activity, while those making up the control group were asked to maintain their usual lifestyle. Changes in symptoms were assessed using the IBS Severity Scoring System (IBS-SSS), a simple scale that measures specific GI symptoms as well as more general indicators of a patient's condition, such as general well-being.
The results of the study are published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology. Of the 102 original participants a total of 75 completed the study, 37 (75.7% women) in the physical activity group and 38 (73.7% women) in the control group. The researchers report that the IBS-SSS scores for the participants in the physical activity group improved by an average of 51 points, while those for the control group improved by just 5 points. These results had a high degree of statistical significance, meaning the likelihood the differences between the groups was down to chance is very small.
It is also reported that the number of patients who reported a worsening of their IBS symptoms during the study was considerably larger in the control group than the physical activity group.
The researchers conclude that increased physical activity improves the GI symptoms of IBS and that people with IBS who have a more physically active lifestyle are likely to will experience less symptom deterioration compared with those who are less active.
As a result of their findings the researchers recommend that physical activity should be used as a first line treatment in IBS, adding that: "Even a slight increase of physical activity may reduce symptoms."
Source: Johannesson E Simrén M Strid H Bajor A Sadik R (2011) Physical Activity Improves Symptoms in Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Randomized Controlled Trial American Journal of Gastroenterology doi: 10.1038/ajg.2010.480