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The importance of exercise in disease prevention and treatment

By Priscilla Lynch - 17th Dec 2023


The benefits of exercise and physical activity in a number of healthcare conditions was a key theme at this year’s Irish Society of Gastroenterology (ISG) Winter Meeting.

Prof Karen Boland, Consultant Gastroenterologist, Beaumont Hospital, Dublin, has studied the impact of diet and exercise programmes on outcomes in moderate-to-severe inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and cirrhosis.

In her presentation to the meeting, Prof Boland highlighted the growing issue of healthcare issues being caused by poor lifestyle and obesity, including early-onset colorectal cancer. She pointed out that 15-to-40 per cent of IBD patients are obese, with accumulating evidence connecting mesenteric fat and IBD/Crohn’s disease. Obesity also negatively impacts the response of various drug therapies in IBD, while these patients have lower muscle mass and function, she reported. Exercise programmes, meanwhile, in IBD and liver cirrhosis have generated successful disease improvements, as confirmed in a number of studies.

Highlighting her key points to the Medical Independent (MI), Prof Boland said healthcare professionals need to inform themselves on the official recommended activity levels and educate their patents. “The big challenge facing us is the ageing, frailer population. The one thing that all of the data points to is that resistance training and exercise will support your health and disease control along with standard therapies. So, my take home message is that we should be having that conversation with patients, as to what resistance exercise is; that they should be trying to do moderate intensity exercise for 150 minutes a week; and try to embed that habit into their lifestyle; and that the benefits that they will get from that are astronomical in terms of their longevity, their health and quality-of-life,” she told MI.

Also speaking during this session, Prof Mike Trenell, Professor of Metabolism and Lifestyle Medicine, Newcastle University, UK, outlined the significant positive impact lifestyle interventions can have on liver disease, quoting from a number of studies. He acknowledged that behaviour change in relation to diet and lifestyle can be very difficult.

However, Prof Trenell maintained that it is possible with the right support and resources, and digital technologies have a role to play. “Encouraging people to move more, and eat less is not enough… every patient should have access to structured education, best practice guidance, and that is not hard and we should be doing that,” he told MI.

The meeting also featured a special ‘activity hour’, which ISG President Prof Orla Crosbie said gave everyone a chance to take a deep breath and get active before the meeting’s social activities and gala dinner. Prof Crosbie said the role of diet and activity in chronic diseases was an area she is particularly passionate about, “so it was good to hear the experts confirm that and also give us ideas for our practices.”

She described the meeting as a great success, and thanked all the speakers and the organising team. “We had a great variety of speakers on a broad range of topics in a lovely setting, here in the Killashee, which worked out very well. The standard of abstracts for the meeting – we had 59 –  was outstanding and we had a very difficult time picking the winners. Congratulations to our trainees, I have no concerns about the future of the profession.” The next ISG meeting will be held in Cork next May. For full details see

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