Exercising when you have a gastrointestinal disorder
Exercise tips for people with Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome, or other gastrointestinal disorders.
Staying physically fit is a constant struggle for Stephanie Horgan, who,
like millions of people with gastrointestinal disorders, has to plan her diet,
her exercise routines, and her entire life around her condition.
"I'm really active now, doing kickboxing, jogging, spinning at the gym, and
eating whatever I want", says the 26-year-old. Horgan was diagnosed with
Crohn's disease at the age of 18 and had three operations within a year. "But
you never know when you're going to have a flare-up, and when you have a flare,
everything revolves around going to the toilet and taking care of your body.
Most social situations are out of the question".
Crohn's is one of two major types of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The
other is ulcerative colitis (UC). Both cause abdominal pain, diarrhoea, weight
loss, lack of energy, and sudden urges to go to the toilet that can lead to
incontinence when sufferers sneeze, cough, laugh, or lift heavy objects.
Most doctors who treat problems that cause incontinence say many people are
reluctant to work out in case the exercise provokes incontinence. However,
patients are urged to try to exercise because this can help to get their
symptoms under control, and avoid diarrhoea.
Some of IBD's symptoms, pain, bloating, cramping, and diarrhoea, are also
common in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is an entirely
different condition. Exercise, too, can pose specific challenges for people
with IBD or IBS, but the positives of getting in shape typically outweigh the
People with gastrointestinal disorders like Crohn's disease, ulcerative
colitis, and IBS need to exercise as much as they can because it can help them
maintain a more normal body weight and aid digestion.
Despite the benefits, people with gastrointestinal disorders do face some
obstacles when it comes to getting, and staying, in shape. Here are seven tips
for making exercising easier when you have a gastrointestinal disorder:
- Minimise impact. Low-impact activities that aren't going to require
a great deal of jarring. Try yoga, tai chi, Pilates: exercises with a movement
component but a focus on rhythmic breathing. Exercising strengthens the pelvic
floor muscles in both men and women and makes exercising safer".
- Go uphill. On treadmills, people with incontinence should walk
rather than run and increase the track's elevation.
- Map out the toilets. Whether you're in the gym or walking in the
park, find out where the toilets are before beginning your workouts.
- Plan toilet breaks. Use common sense by going to the toilet before
you start exercising.
- Choose your sports wisely. Golf is a lot safer than rugby or
- Listen to your body. "I'm single and dating and feel fortunate to be
in remission so that it doesn't interfere with my life", says Horgan, who is
working on her master's degree in social work. But when she feels a flare
coming on, she doesn't push herself physically.
- Keep your doctor informed. Don't be shy about talking to your doctor
about what happens when you exercise. Additionally, if you are fatigued, unable
to eat, or having persistent diarrhoea or bleeding, see your doctor.