Active obese adults may have less digestive trouble
Obese adults who exercise may be less likely than their sedentary peers to suffer abdominal cramps, diarrhea and other gastrointestinal problems, according to a new study.
Though it’s not clear that exercise explains the difference, the findings suggest that overweight people might ease their digestive symptoms by becoming more active, researchers say.
The relationship between weight and gastrointestinal symptoms is not fully understood, but there is evidence that heavier people more often suffer digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Whether excess weight, per se, or lifestyle habits such as diet and exercise are to blame is unknown.
In the new study, published in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, researchers found that the higher a person’s body mass index (BMI), the greater the risk of digestive symptoms like cramping, bloating, diarrhea and constipation.
The relationship appeared, however, to be largely explained by eating habits and physical activity. Exercise, in particular, seemed to protect against digestive problems, the study found.
It’s too soon to say whether diet and exercise are more important than BMI itself in gastrointestinal problems, lead study author Dr. Rona L. Levy told Reuters Health.
Nor is it clear that exercise can help ease such symptoms, though the current findings “certainly give that suggestion,” said Levy, a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle.
The results are based on data from 983 overweight men and women who enrolled in a weight-loss study. Overall, about 13 percent had IBS, a collection of chronic symptoms such as cramping, bloating, constipation and diarrhea.
In addition, nearly 20 percent said they had problems with abdominal pain, while a similar percentage complained of bloating. Diarrhea was the most common problem, affecting one quarter of study participants.
The researchers initially found that people with a relatively higher BMI ran a greater risk of IBS, abdominal pain and diarrhea. But this relationship nearly disappeared when other factors, including diet and exercise, were considered.
In contrast, exercise was consistently related to a lower risk of digestive problems.
It’s possible, according to Levy, that exercise eases such symptoms through effects on the digestive system or, less directly, through psychological benefits—perhaps by helping people to put less focus on their symptoms.
More research, she said, is needed to find out whether a prescription of exercise can treat digestive problems.
SOURCE: Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, October 2005.
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