We all know that exercise is a key component for a healthy lifestyle. Regular physical activity gets the breath moving, the blood pumping and keeps our bodies agile, strong and energetic.

On top of promoting general health and wellbeing, exercise is frequently cited as a means to help stave off or manage chronic medical conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and even depression. The endorphin rush from even moderate exercise (such as a 30 min walk) is guaranteed to have you feeling more positive, refreshed and energised.

And if feeling good isn’t enough to tempt you into your trainers, here are some other reasons to get up and get moving:

– Less stress: Endorphins and neurotransmitters released during physical activity help reduce the effects of stress on the body and mind.

– Improved immune function: There are number of links between improved immunity and exercise, with theories ranging from flushing out bacteria and toxins through sweat, through to increased blood flow enabling antibodies (white blood cells) to identify and fight threats more efficiently.

– Weight control: Burning calories with exercise is a vital component of maintaining a healthy weight. A great additional benefit of this aspect is improved confidence and reduced risk factors for medical conditions such as hypertension and diabetes.

For people living with gastrointestinal conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s and coeliac disease, exercise offers a number of additional benefits. It’s important for anyone with a medical condition to strive for a good level of overall physical health so that the body’s defense systems are able to fire on all cylinders – and exercise is fundamental to this. Furthermore, exercise can specifically enhance your gastro health by:

– Improving digestion: Exercise stimulates the muscles of the bowel which can help move food through the body and enable better absorption of nutrients from food.

– Standing up, stretching out: While sitting down to eat is often cited as a good practice for IBS sufferers, remaining stationary and sitting too much is not great for gut health. It’s important to stand up, move around and get the kinks out of your colon!

– Relieving constipation: a common symptom of many GI disorders, constipation is often improved by exercise.

For many people with GI and digestive issues, especially those with acute symptoms, getting into physical activity can be a bit daunting, especially during a flare up. That’s why it’s important to be gentle with your body and start slowly. Many IBS sufferers find that the gentle pace of activities such as yoga and tai chi provide a manageable level of activity, with the added benefit of providing relaxation – a major bonus given that stress can aggravate digestive problems.

According to an article on Everyday Health, researchers are even using yoga as part of a treatment program for kids suffering from IBS:

‘Researchers at UCLA are using Iyengar yoga … to help children with irritable bowel syndrome manage their symptoms. “We find that people tend to ‘grip’ where their pain is,” explains Subhadra Evans, PhD, a researcher and child developmental psychologist with the Pediatric Pain Program at UCLA. This results in a classic hunch often seen in people with abdominal pain. The antidote may be yoga poses that open up the stomach and abdomen’

To get started, why not give some of these gentle stretches a try – they all have specific benefits for digestive health and are easy enough to try at home, especially during a flare up.

Useful links:
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/depression-and-exercise/MH00043
http://www.everydayhealth.com/digestive-health-pictures/the-best-moves-to-aid-digestion.aspx#/slide-5

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