The health benefits of exercise have been known for decades, and yet approximately 75 percent of people in the U.S. are considered sedentary — engaging in irregular or no physical activity. Aside from its direct physical benefits, exercise is also among the best ways to fight obesity and reduce stress, two other risk factors for gastrointestinal disorders.
Physical activity affects the entire body. Regular exercise can lower triglycerides and raise HDL cholesterol (the "good" kind), increase insulin sensitivity, improve glucose tolerance, and bring more blood and oxygen to all parts of the body. All these changes mean that each body system, including the gastrointestinal system, can function optimally.
How much exercise should you get? You should get at least 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity exercise every day. You don't have to do all 30 minutes at once; 10 minutes walking the dog in the morning and 20 cutting the lawn in the evening will count towards your 30 minutes. For greater fitness benefits, work up to 20 to 60 minutes of continuous exercise, five days per week. The keys to building exercise into your lifestyle are:
Specific GI disorders that are affected by level of physical activity include:
Regular exercise can prevent constipation. Although the exact mechanism for how exercise affects constipation isn't known, people who exercise regularly are more likely to have food travel through the large intestine at a faster rate. A faster transit time means less time for water to be absorbed from the stool in the colon, resulting in looser stools that are more easily passed.
People who have a lifetime pattern of sedentary habits have a higher risk of colon cancer compared to people who are physically very active. Although research is still being conducted to determine how exercise helps to reduce colon cancer risk, two theories have been proposed:
Obesity has long been known to be a risk factor for developing gallstones. Regular exercise appears to lower the risk for developing gallstones.
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