If you have Crohn’s disease, you may have heard that symptoms can be helped by finding the right exercise routine.
This may leave you wondering: How much exercise is too much? What is the best exercise to help reduce symptoms? Can certain exercises make symptoms worse?
Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Moderate aerobic activities, resistant training, and yoga or tai chi may help you manage your symptoms. They can also help you enjoy better overall health, an important part of staying well with any disease.
Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It causes the lining of your digestive tract to become inflamed. This can cause mild to severe symptoms, which may disappear during periods of remission.
There’s no known cure for Crohn’s disease. However, you can take steps to reduce your symptoms. In addition to following a special diet, try to manage your stress levels. Stress can affect your digestive tract and cause symptoms of Crohn’s to flare up.
Exercising regularly can help you relieve stress and may also promote good digestion.
Benefits of Exercise
While most people with Crohn’s know there’s no cure for the disease, many are eager to find a simple trick to eliminate symptoms. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that easy. To send your symptoms into remission, you need to reduce inflammation, address problems with your immune system, or both.
No exercise routine can singlehandedly clear your symptoms. However, exercise can help your digestive tract work more efficiently. It can also help you maintain good overall health, which may lessen your symptoms, increase your energy levels, and strengthen your immune system.
Experts believe that exercise relieves Crohn’s symptoms primarily by reducing your stress level. Since stress can aggravate your digestive issues, regular exercise and other stress-reducing activities can provide welcome relief. Exercise can also help reduce the symptoms of depression, a common complication of Crohn’s.
Exercise also has another benefit for people with Crohn’s: osteoporosis prevention. Crohn’s puts you at increased risk of osteoporosis, both from the disease itself and as a side effect of many Crohn’s medications. Weight-bearing exercises are known to help prevent osteoporosis by slowing your rate of bone loss. It can also help you develop better balance and muscle strength, which can lower your risk of falls and bone fractures.
When you have Crohn’s disease, exhausting high-impact workouts can leave you feeling drained. Your doctor will probably recommend low-impact aerobic activities. For example, consider taking a half-hour walk several times a week. Other low-impact options include cycling, swimming, and water aerobics.
A study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology found that walking three times a week at a moderate pace for about half an hour helped participants with Crohn’s disease improve their symptoms. The participants also noticed overall improvements to their quality of life. They covered an average distance of 3.5 kilometers, or about 2 miles, on each walk.
Muscle-strengthening activities are essential to staying physically fit. Try to incorporate two or three sessions of muscle-strengthening exercises into your weekly workout routine.
According to a study published in the Journal of Crohn’s and Colitis, resistance training is the “gold standard” when it comes to preventing bone mineral loss and improving body composition in people, including those with Crohn’s disease. Use elastic workout bands, machines, or free weights to give your muscles a good workout. Try to include two to three sets of 10 to 12 exercises in each session. Common exercises include abdominal crunches, back extensions, chest presses or push-ups, squats, and lunges. Remember to rest for 15 to 30 seconds between each exercise and 2 to 3 minutes between sets. Work with a trainer if you have never done strength training exercises before. Doing so will help ensure you are doing the proper sequence of exercises with the correct form.
Yoga and Tai Chi
Yoga or tai chi may be a good addition to your workout routine. Both forms of exercise combine carefully controlled movements and breathing techniques. This meditative combination can help relieve stress. Yoga and tai chi can also help you burn calories while also improving your muscle strength, flexibility, and balance.
It’s important to check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program or activity. Make sure your physician is on board with any major changes you make to your workout routine. Once you have your doctor’s approval, a professional trainer can help you learn how to do new activities safely. Consider signing up for a resistance training, yoga, or tai chi class designed for beginners.
You should always pay close attention to your body and take breaks when you need them. For example, pause or stop when you’re feeling fatigued. It’s also wise to limit exercise during flare-ups — choose low-level exercises or wait until you’re healthy before resuming your workout routine. Choose activities and workout spaces that give you easy access to restrooms, in case you experience diarrhea or other symptoms while working out. Make sure you hydrate properly before, during, and after your exercise session. Dehydration can be an issue, especially if you have chronic diarrhea.
Whatever exercise program you choose, it needs to be something you enjoy. If you’re having fun, you’ll be more likely to stick with it in the long term. Consider trying a variety of activities until you find something you like. Inviting a friend or family member to join you can help make exercise more enjoyable.
Regular exercise is an important part of staying health. Choosing light to moderate fitness activities can help you improve your overall health, without putting too much stress on your digestive system. You can enjoy the many benefits that exercise has to offer, even with Crohn’s disease.