NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Regular exercise may relieve constipation in people who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, according to a study in the International Journal of Sports Medicine.

Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a common disorder affecting up to 30 percent of the population by some estimates. Symptoms may include chronic abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation.

Studies involving healthy adults have shown that regular exercise can relieve constipation and feelings of bloating. Therefore, it seems “intuitively appealing” to encourage IBS sufferers to exercise regularly to find relief from these symptoms, the study team notes.

To check out the notion, Dr. Amanda J. Daley of the University of Birmingham in the UK and colleagues recruited 56 adults (mostly women) with doctor-diagnosed IBS for a study lasting 12 weeks.

The participants were randomly assigned to usual care (i.e., a “control” group) or to an exercise program, consisting of two 40-minute one-on-one exercise consultations designed to provide exercise skills, knowledge, confidence and motivation — the goal being 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise 5 days a week.

The researchers chose this type of intervention, they say, because it has been found to boost exercise in other patient groups, and because it could be more easily integrated into current healthcare practice than supervised programs.

After 12 weeks, the exercise group chalked up significantly more weekly exercise than the control group and they reported significantly greater declines in symptoms of constipation.

The fact that this brief, pragmatic exercise intervention led to a significant increase in the amount of exercise IBS patients engaged in is “encouraging,” Daley and her colleagues say, especially considering that people with IBS may avoid participating in exercise because of their abdominal symptoms.

This study, they conclude, highlights the possibility that exercise may be an effective way for people to manage their IBS symptoms, particularly constipation.

SOURCE: International Journal of Sports Medicine, September 2008.