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Should you rest with an IBS flare up?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common digestive disorder that affects the large intestine. Symptoms include abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation. During an IBS flare up, these symptoms are often more severe and can be very disruptive to daily life. One question that often comes up is whether you should rest or keep active during a flare up. Here is a look at the pros and cons of resting versus staying active with an IBS flare up.

Should You Rest During an IBS Flare Up?

There are some potential benefits to getting extra rest during an IBS flare up:

  • Resting gives your digestive system a break – Your GI tract has to work extra hard during diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain episodes. Rest allows things to calm down.
  • Stress reduction – Stress is a common IBS trigger. Resting helps lower stress hormones and relieve anxiety.
  • Healing – Rest allows the inflammation in your GI tract to heal more quickly.
  • Pain relief – Lying down with a heating pad can help ease abdominal cramping and discomfort.
  • Prevents exhaustion – The symptoms of an IBS flare can be exhausting. Rest recharges your battery.

So in many cases, getting some extra rest when IBS symptoms flare up is recommended to help calm things down and give your body a chance to heal.

Should You Stay Active During an IBS Flare Up?

On the other hand, there are also some advantages to continuing gentle activity during an IBS flare:

  • Prevents deconditioning – Lying in bed for too long can cause muscle weakness, stiff joints, and balance problems.
  • Boosts serotonin – Gentle exercise can help boost serotonin levels which improves IBS symptoms.
  • Reduces constipation – Movement can help relieve constipation which is common with IBS.
  • Provides distraction – Getting outside for a short walk can help take your mind temporarily off the discomfort.
  • Improves mood – Physical activity releases endorphins that elevate your mood.

So staying moderately active can help prevent complications from too much rest and offer both physical and mental health benefits.

Tips for Resting During an IBS Flare Up

If you do decide to get extra rest during an IBS flare up, here are some tips to do it most effectively:

  • Listen to your body – Only rest if you genuinely feel exhausted or run down. Don’t overdo it.
  • Try short naps – Long naps can leave you groggy. 10-20 minute power naps are best.
  • Stay in comfy clothes – Don’t wear anything tight around your abdomen. Choose soft, stretchy fabrics.
  • Use a heating pad – Place a heating pad or hot water bottle on your abdomen for soothing warmth.
  • Stay hydrated – Drink plenty of water, herbal tea, or electrolyte drinks. Dehydration makes IBS worse.
  • Consider ginger – Ginger tea can help relax intestinal spasms and ease nausea.
  • Distract yourself – Listen to calming music, meditate, or watch something lighthearted on TV.
  • Avoid big meals – Stick to smaller, blander meals that are easier to digest.

Prioritizing rest during a flare doesn’t mean staying in bed all day. Take breaks to stretch, shower, and walk around the house periodically.

Tips for Staying Active During an IBS Flare Up

If you want to remain active during an IBS flare up, keep these tips in mind:

  • Go low-intensity – Don’t overexert yourself. Light walking or stretching is ideal.
  • Listen to your body – If you feel worse, take a break or switch to resting.
  • Stay close to home – Don’t go on long trips in case you need a bathroom urgently.
  • Try yoga – Gentle poses help stretch abdominal muscles. Avoid intense twists.
  • Use good posture – Stand up straight to prevent muscle tension in your core and back.
  • Hydrate well – Sip water before, during and after physical activity.
  • Mind your steps – Walk carefully to avoid jarring motions that could worsen diarrhea.
  • Visit a PT – A physical therapist can create an individualized activity plan.

The key is to avoid high-intensity workouts that could make IBS symptoms worse in the moment. Gentle movement enhances recovery without overtaxing your digestive tract.

How to Decide Whether to Rest or Stay Active

So should you rest or stay active during an IBS flare up? There are a few factors to consider when making this decision:

  • Symptom severity – Mild symptoms may tolerate gentle activity, while severe flares likely need complete rest.
  • Main symptoms – Diarrhea and abdominal pain may require more rest, while constipation may benefit from light activity.
  • Your energy level – Only be active if you have enough stamina. Severe fatigue calls for rest.
  • Duration of flare – At the start of a flare up, rest is key. After a few days activity may aid healing.
  • Your baseline activity – If you are normally very active, a short rest break is adequate. Sedentary people need more rest.

Pay close attention to how you feel moment to moment, and let your symptoms and energy guide whether rest or gentle activity is right for each phase of an IBS flare up. Don’t overdo either one.

The Best Approach: Alternating Rest and Gentle Activity

The latest research suggests that the most beneficial approach during an IBS flare up is to alternate periods of rest with periods of light activity as you are able.

Here is an example daily schedule integrating rest and gentle activity:

Time Rest or Activity
Morning Rest, hot pack on abdomen
Mid-morning 10 minute walk outdoors
Afternoon Gentle yoga or stretching
Late afternoon Relaxation, heating pad, nap
Evening Rest, distract yourself with light activity like reading or meditation

This balanced routine gives your body adequate restorative rest while also providing movement to prevent deconditioning and boost mood. The key is listening to your body and not overdoing activity to the point that it exacerbates your IBS symptoms.


Dealing with an IBS flare up can be frustrating and disruptive. Determining whether to get extra rest or try to stay active is a challenge. In many cases, a combination approach is best – getting plenty of restorative rest while also integrating brief, gentle activity periodically. By staying in tune with your symptoms and energy levels, you can find the right balance to help calm your flare up and start feeling better.