Exercise May Lower IBD Risk

Crohns disease risk but not ulcerative colitis risk may be lowered with physical activity

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Apart from maintaining heart health, bone health and mental health, exercising also may help maintain digestive health.

A recent study found that physical activity helped lower women’s risk of developing Crohn’s disease — a digestive disorder causing inflammation in the lower part of the small intestine.

The authors of this study noted that their findings support past research that has found exercise to lower the risk of Crohn’s disease.

"Exercise regularly."

This study was led by Hamed Khalili, MD, of the Division of Gastroenterology in the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. The research team examined the relationship between physical activity and risk of two inflammatory bowel diseases.

In people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), the immune system mistakenly attacks the tissues of the digestive tract. Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are both inflammatory bowel diseases that affect different parts of the digestive tract. Crohn's disease typically causes inflammation in the lower part of the small intestine (ileum), while ulcerative colitis affects the lining of the large intestine.

Dr. Khalili and colleagues analyzed data from 194,711 women in the Nurses Health Study and Nurses Health Study II.

Study participants were asked about the average amount of time they spent in a week doing any of the following activities: walking or hiking, jogging, running, bicycling, swimming, tennis, calisthenics, aerobics, aerobic dance, using a rowing machine, playing racquet ball and performing other vigorous activities (e.g., mowing the lawn).

Based on the length and intensity of physical activity, the researchers determined a metabolic equivalent task (MET) score for participants. MET is the ratio of calories that the body burns during an activity to calories that the body burns at rest. A 4-MET activity, for example, burns four times the amount of calories than what the body burns while at rest.

Diagnosis of ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease was confirmed by two gastroenterologists (doctors specializing in digestive system disorders).

Several factors were taken into account that could have influenced risk of IBD, including body weight, smoking status and use of certain medications, hormone therapy and birth control.

The researchers found that women with at least 27 MET hours per week of physical activity had a 44 percent reduction in their risk of developing Crohn’s disease compared to sedentary women who had less than 3 MET hours per week. Physical activity was not found to lower the risk of ulcerative colitis.

The authors noted that their findings support previous studies showing that physical activity had a positive affect on IBD risk. These authors concluded that future studies should look to see if physical activity has a beneficial effect for patients who already have IBD.

This study was published on November 14 in BMJ.

This study was funded by a series of grants from the National Institute of Health.

The study authors reported no competing interests.

Review Date: 
November 20, 2013
Last Updated:
December 30, 2013