Examining the Science
Compared to other complementary therapies for IBD, more research has been conducted specifically examining the link between exercise and Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
A number of published studies suggest that regular exercise not only improves the patient’s quality of life, but also reduces symptoms of the disease. A recent meta-analysis published in the The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness reviewed 7 studies on exercise and IBD and concluded that exercise seems to reduce symptoms of the disease, while simultaneously improving the patient’s quality of life indicators. However, the authors noted that there wasn’t sufficient evidence linking exercise to heightened immune function in individuals with IBD (the results of the studies were mixed).
Three additional studies published in the last few years also support the use of low intensity exercise to improve both the quality of life and symptoms of individuals living with IBD.[2,3,4] One of these studies looked at a population of sedentary patients living with Crohn’s disease. The patients were put on a low-intensity exercise program consisting of three 30 minute walks weekly. After 12 weeks, the patients demonstrated statistically significant improvements in IBD Stress Index, IBDQ score, and Harvey Bradshaw Simple Index – all measures of disease activity.
It should be noted that these studies did not find any correlation between exercise and the onset of IBD, meaning the jury is still out on whether exercise can help prevent IBD and bolster immune function in patients with IBD. More research is needed in this area. Also, most of the studies identified low-intensity exercise as being associated with disease improvement. The available research does not support the use of strenuous physical activity to control disease symptoms.
Next Section: How to Practice It
 Packer, N. et al. Does physical activity affect quality of life, disease symptoms and immune measures in patients with inflammatory bowel disease? A systematic review. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness. 2010; 50(1): 1-18.
 Goodhand, J. et al. Management of stress in inflammatory bowel disease: a therapeutic option? Expert Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2009;3(6):661-79.
 Narula, N. et al. Exercise and inflammatory bowel disease. Can J Gastroenterol. 2008; 22(5): 497–504.
 Ng, V. et al. Exercise and Crohn‘s disease: speculations on potential benefits. Can J Gastroenterol. 2006; 20(10): 657–660.