Exercise and IBD


Developing a safe and effective exercise programme for people with Crohn’s Disease.

A clearer understanding of the effects of different types of exercise training in adults with Crohn’s Disease is needed so that safe and effective exercise programmes can be designed. 

Dr Lindsay Bottoms, University of Hertfordshire

What did this research look at?

Little is known about the effect of exercise on IBD.  It is possible that exercise may reduce inflammation in people with IBD, increase bone and muscle strength, and improve mental health.  The researchers in this study wanted to explore the effect of exercise on people with IBD, in order to help design safe and effective exercise programmes.

Research into the effect of exercise on other long-term conditions has shown that the effects of exercise training largely depend on the type, intensity, frequency and duration of exercise performed.  Moderate-intensity endurance exercise training (eg 30 minutes moderate continuous cycling three times a week) is a commonly used method.  However, evidence is beginning to suggest that shorter bouts of intense intermittent exercise (high intensity interval training or ‘HIT’) such as one-minute hard cycling followed by one-minute easy cycling, repeated ten times a session, three times a week can have a greater effect on fitness and health.

The researchers carried out a small exploratory study with 36 people who were either in remission with Crohn’s, or had mild disease.  The participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups:

(1) A moderate-intensity exercise programme involving 3 sessions of exercise per week for 12 weeks
(2) A high-intensity interval exercise programme of the same frequency and duration
(3) A control group who were asked to maintain their usual activities.

All exercise sessions were supervised in a university sports science laboratory. Each session of moderate-intensity exercise involved 30 minutes continuous cycling on an exercise bike, whereas each session of high-intensity exercise involved one-minute of hard cycling followed by one-minute of easy cycling repeated 10 times.

The researchers used stool and blood samples to measure the effect of the exercise on inflammation.  They measured fitness levels by analysis of expired air during a cycling test.  Mental health and quality of life were measured using standardised questionnaires. The information collected during this study will help the researchers to plan a future large-scale study of exercise training in Crohn’s.


The study showed that participants kept to the exercise programmes and that they enjoyed them. There were very few negative side effects of exercising. Participants experienced a range of health benefits since beginning the exercise programmes, including improved fitness and energy levels, and a reduction in anxiety.

Who is leading the research: Dr Lindsay Bottoms, University of Hertfordshire

Our Funding: £115,000

Duration: 24 months

Official title of the application: A feasibility study of moderate and high intensity exercise training in adults with Crohn’s Disease

Tags: Exercise