Exercise affects the digestive system in various ways, both positive and negative. In addition, different types of exercise have different effects on the digestive system. Consult a qualified health practitioner before starting an exercise program for specific digestive problems, particularly if you have been inactive for a period of time.
The Digestive System
The digestive system is made up of the esophagus, the stomach, the pancreas, liver, gallbladder, small intestine and the large intestine. According to MayoClinic.com, digestion time takes between 24 and 72 hours. Exercise can help to improve the efficiency of the digestive process and help you to maintain a healthy weight.
Types of Exercise
Different types of exercise have different effects on the body. For example, exercise such as riding a bike can help to reduce heartburn. Light exercise that increases breathing and heart rate can help to produce more efficient bowel movements. However, extreme exercise can have negative effects on the digestive system.
Exercise such as running can cause digestive disorders. Disorders such as nausea and diarrhea are common in women runners who train hard. Acute gastris and gastro-oesophageal reflux symptoms are also common in runners. There is little conclusive research to confirm the full effects of running on the digestive system, but PubMed suggests that digestive complaints in runners may be caused by the direct effect of exercise on the colon.
According to James and Phyllis Balch, in “Prescription for Nutritional Healing,” regular exercise improves digestion and elimination. According to the BBC exercise slows down the digestion system in order to conserve energy for the muscles. The Gastroenterological Society of Australia says cardiovascular exercise strengthens the muscles of the abdomen and stimulates the intestinal muscles to move contents through the digestive system.
Allow two hours after a meal before you exercise and do not exercise on a full stomach. Practice light exercise to improve the efficiency of the digestive system. Light exercise such as yoga and Pilates can also improve digestive system functions by reducing stress and anxiety levels, which can cause digestive disorders, too. Consult a health practitioner before starting an exercise program if you are pregnant, elderly or under the age of 16.
- “Prescription for Nutritional Healing”; James F. Balch, Phyllis A. Balch; 1997
- MayoClinic.com: Digestion: How Long Does It Take?
- PubMed.gov: The Effect of Exercise on the Gastrointestinal Tract
- BBC: Exercise
- Gastroenterological Society of Australia: The Digestive System