Can Running Help Your Digestive System?

Regular exercise may reduce and prevent digestive ailments.

Regular exercise may reduce and prevent digestive ailments.

Digestive problems can really cramp an active lifestyle. While the causes of many gastrointestinal issues are unknown, adopting healthy lifestyle patterns -- including regular cardiovascular exercise such as running -- may afford some relief. If you have an intestinal tract that isn't playing nice, consider adding a run to your daily routine.

Stress Reduction

With a busy life and hectic schedule, there's no doubt that you are familiar with stress. Digestive problems, however, are often linked to excessive stress and worry. Ulcers, irritable bowel disease and diarrhea are common stress responses of the digestive system. While there are many ways you can reduce stress, regular exercise is one of the most effective. Running may be particularly beneficial because many runners are able to achieve a zen-like, meditative state when they run. Running also increases endorphins and improves mood, which both help to lower stress levels. When the car won't start, your kid hid the keys, you spilled coffee on your blouse and you can feel your stomach wrenching, go for a run to put it all behind you for a few minutes. When you're done, you'll likely find that tackling life's various aggravations is a lot easier.

Reduced Colon Cancer Risk

According to a 2001 review in the journal, "Gut," regular physical exercise, such as running, can reduce the risk of colon cancer. Physically active men and women have a 50-percent lower risk for developing cancers of the digestive system, independent of other factors such as diet and weight. Researchers believe that one of the ways exercise reduces cancer risk is by speeding up the movement of waste products through the digestive tract. This limits the time that the lining of the colon is in contact with the cancer-causing contents of waste. So get moving to keep that digestive tract moving too.

Constipation Relief

Constipation is another common digestive issue. If you've ever experienced it, along with the torture of laxatives, you know that taking measures to keep the bowels regular is a worthwhile endeavor. Running and other forms of aerobic exercise help stimulate movement of the digestive system by increasing the blood flow to digestive organs. This triggers intestinal contractions that prompts the release of digestive enzymes. These contractions and enzymatic activities help speed up the rate at which waste moves through the intestinal tract, thus relieving constipation. Hit the pavement regularly for a run and wave "bye bye" to constipation-induced bloating and the nasty effects of laxatives.

Warning: Gastric Distress

Regular, moderate exercise benefits the digestive system in many ways, but be aware that intense activities or those lasting a long period of time can cause gastric distress such as cramping and diarrhea. Many experienced runners have been struck with the dreaded "runner's trot" at some point during training or races. You can minimize the risk of gastric problems by staying properly hydrated, building up your exercise intensity slowly and learning which foods your body tolerates the best before runs. Talk to your doctor, though, if you experience gastrointestinal pain or discomfort on a regular basis.

 

Resources

  • Natural Stomach Care; Anil Minocha and David Carroll

About the Author

Jessica Bell has been working in the health and fitness industry since 2002. She has served as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor. Bell holds an M.A. in communications and a B.A. in English.

Photo Credits

  • Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images