Exercise, Gut Health, and IBD


For a long time, I’ve noticed that I feel stronger, have more energy, and enjoy better overall health when my workouts are consistent–and at least moderately intense (gotta get a sweat going!). I’ve also noticed that I have better management of my Crohn’s symptoms when my exercise program is on point.

Earlier this week, I was talking with Samantha Rynearson (@crohnicallyfabulous) for an upcoming Crohn’s Fitness Food podcast episode and one of the things we talked about was that she also feels better when incorporating some form of activity and exercise into her life. As we were talking, I said I didn’t actually know the mechanisms or why exercise helped my Crohn’s symptoms, and then I made a mental note to look into the reasoning further.

Then, as if right on cue, the very next day I stumbled upon a two-year old podcast episode, “Hormone to Gut Connection,” on Couch Talk with Dr. Anna Cabeca. In this episode, she interviewed Dr. Michael Ruscio, a functional medicine practitioner and author of Healthy Gut, Healthy You. Near the end of the interview, I found my golden nugget of information when they discussed exercise and why it most likely improves gut health as well as both IBD and IBS symptoms.

After listening to the podcast and then, again the very next day, getting another social media comment from a fellow Crohn’s Warrior who said his Crohn’s symptoms were getting better with regular exercise, I knew I had to share the episode. While the majority of the episode covers hormones related to gut health, at the very end (at approximately 38 minutes and 20 seconds) Drs. Cabeca and Ruscio discuss exercise and the gut.

In short, exercise causes a degree of immunosuppression in the gut (however, this can be a good thing, keep reading!). Our gut is home to many good bacteria that are important for good health. But, an overzealous immune system (like the ones those of use with IBD have), can attack the good bacteria and cause their numbers to dwindle. However, exercise also modulates certain receptors in the gut that are involved in this process. When the receptors are downregulated through exercise, your immune system is less aggressive toward the healthy bacteria, which might be why exercise is shown to be helpful for those with IBD and IBS.

It’s important to keep in mind though, that too much exercise can have negative effects. Overtraining can suppress the immune system too much, resulting in an increased risk for infection. Make sure you’re not overdoing it, to get the most benefits out of exercise. You should feel invigorated after working out and have more energy overall. If you notice these things, you are most likely not overtraining.

If you want to listen to the full episode, you can find this interview anywhere you listen to podcasts (search for the Couch Talk with Dr. Anna Cabeca podcast) or listen online here.

Do you battle Crohn’s or Colitis and find that exercise helps you? Share in the comments!

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