Exercise therapy in patients with constipation: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials

Scand J Gastroenterol. 2019 Feb;54(2):169-177. doi: 10.1080/00365521.2019.1568544. Epub 2019 Mar 7.


Background: Exercise therapy has shown significant efficacy as a means of treating various intestinal diseases, but its role in the treatment of constipation is still unclear. The purpose of this study was thus to analyze the effects of exercise on constipation by means of a systematic review and meta-analysis.

Methods: PubMed, Web of Science, EMBASE, Cochrane Library and three Chinese databases [Wanfang Database, Chinese Biomedical Literature (CBM) and China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI)] were searched for relevant studies published through June 2018. Eligible studies were selected in accordance with the PRISMA statement. The main results of interest were changes in gastrointestinal symptoms.

Results: A total of nine randomized controlled trials involving 680 participants were included. Eight studies involved aerobic exercise and only one study involved anaerobic exercise. The aerobic exercises included were Qigong, walking and physical movement. The results of this systematic review and meta-analysis indicated that exercise had significant benefits as a means of improving the symptoms of constipation patients [relative risk (RR) = 1.97; 95% CI: 1.19, 3.27; p = .009; I2=91.3%]. Subgroup analyses showed that aerobic exercise (RR = 2.42; 95% CI: 1.34, 4.36; p = .000; I2=88%) similarly had a positive effect on constipation. However, these results were associated with a high risk of bias.

Conclusion: Our results suggest that exercise may be a feasible and effective treatment option for patients with constipation. However, due to methodological shortcomings, the real effect of this intervention cannot be definitively determined. Researchers should, therefore, design more rigorous studies in order to evaluate the effect of exercise on constipation.

Keywords: Exercise; constipation; meta-analysis; randomized controlled trials; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Constipation / rehabilitation*
  • Exercise
  • Exercise Therapy / methods*
  • Humans
  • Quality of Life
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic