Researchers are a step closer to understanding the relationship between exercise and inflammatory bowel disease symptoms.
In a new study published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity, University of Illinois researchers found that mice with colitis had fewer symptoms when they were allowed to run as they pleased on an exercise wheel for six weeks. But when researchers forced mice to run on the wheel at a moderate pace for six weeks, their colitis symptoms got worse.
In addition, researchers found that expression of genes known to be pro-inflammatory was reduced among the mice that voluntarily ran on the wheel, but the expression of the same genes was raised among the mice forced to run on the wheel.
"There is evidence that prolonged, intense exercise can cause gastrointestinal disruption in competitive athletes. However, very little is known about regularly performed moderately intense exercise, especially in those with inflammatory bowel diseases," study researcher Jeffrey Woods, a kinesiology and community health professor at the university, said in a statement. "From a public health perspective, this would be important information to gather."
While it's unclear what the implications of the findings are for humans, scientists say the study adds to a growing body of research on the links among stress, exercise and inflammatory bowel diseases. The most common ones include Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis; altogether, inflammatory bowel diseases affect about 1.5 million people in the U.S., according to PLOS Blogs. While exercise is important for people with an inflammatory bowel disease, it can be difficult because symptoms of the condition often include diarrhea and abdominal pain; WebMD has some great exercise tips for people with IBD to consider.
A recent review of the literature on exercise and inflammatory bowel disease shows that studies on the topic are often small or weak, making it hard to come up with a definitive conclusion about what sort of exercise regimen is good for people with this condition.
"In consideration of all the evidence collected regarding the specific benefits of exercise for IBD patients, it may be timely for the medical community to begin researching this topic in earnest," those researchers wrote in the 2008 review, published in the Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology. "First, the effect of exercise on IBD needs to be clearly determined. If IBD is independent of exercise, then we need to determine whether there is merit in providing exercise guidelines to a patient population that has compliance difficulties due to the transitory nature of their symptoms."