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Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Exercise

Living with conditions such as Ulcerative Colitis (UC) and Crohn’s Disease (CD) presents significant challenges, impacting daily life with symptoms like fatigue, abdominal pain, and weight loss. While medications are commonly used for treatment, alternative therapies like regular exercise have shown promise in managing these conditions.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) encompasses chronic illnesses diagnosed mainly before 30 years of age but can occur later. Stress and diet can worsen IBD, with symptoms varying in severity among individuals. UC affects the colon and rectum, while CD can impact any part of the digestive tract.

Current medical treatments for IBD include corticosteroids and biological products, but they carry their range of side effects. Exercise emerges as a potential ally due to its positive impact on the immune system, mental health, and inflammation. Studies indicate a correlation between higher physical activity and reduced disease activity in IBD patients.

A research study conducted by BMC Gastroenterology conducted in Holland in 2017 surveyed a total of 448 patients with IBD. 176 presented with CD and 162 with UC. 70% of participants engaging in the survey were in clinical remission. 61% of these participants adhered to Dutch physical activity guidelines. The surveys used in the study were; The short Crohn’s Disease Activity Index (sCDAI) and the Patient Simple Clinical Colitis Activity Index (P-SCCAI). The surveys concluded that participants with a higher physical activity had lower disease activity. Some participants also reported a reduction in symptoms if they weren’t already in clinical remission.

Another study conducted by Brain, Behaviour and Immunity have found that one 20-minute exercise session at a moderate intensity can stimulate the immune system to act as an anti-inflammatory cellular response. Immune cells have adrenergic receptors, which are triggered by hormones released into the bloodstream, such as adrenaline and norepinephrine. When the immune system is activated during exercise, several cytokines—or proteins—are produced as a result, which enhances immune responses.

Yoga is also a form of exercise known to assist with the symptoms of IBD. Gastroenterologists have linked IBD flare ups with stress. Yoga and meditation can assist in the reduction of stress levels whilst also improving physical composition. An 8-week intervention study with 100 IBD patients (60 UC and 40 CD) concluded that patients with inflammatory bowel disease who are in the clinical remission phase can benefit from a simple yoga-based regimen that is both safe and effective.

In conclusion, beyond its physical advantages, regular exercise offers natural anti-inflammatory support for those with IBD. Just 20 minutes of moderate exercise daily can positively influence the immune system, potentially reducing inflammation. While there's more to learn and various medications available, integrating exercise into treatment plans could significantly aid in managing these conditions.

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