Exercising with an inflammatory bowel disease like ulcerative colitis (UC) can be challenging at times. Symptoms like stomach pain and persistent diarrhea may leave you with little energy or desire for activity.
Medication can help with managing symptoms and achieving remission, but your symptoms may not go away completely. Getting started with an exercise regimen might take some convincing, but the benefits you can gain from exercising are worth the effort.
There’s no denying the benefits of regular physical activity. Exercise can reduce blood pressure and help you maintain a healthy weight.
It can also promote a better mood. Chronic health conditions like UC can interfere with your quality of life, triggering frustration, anxiety, or depression. Physical activity stimulates your brain’s production of endorphins, or feel-good hormones.
The more you move and exercise, the better you can feel mentally, making it easier to cope with the physical symptoms of UC.
Exercise is also helpful because of its anti-inflammatory effects. Uncontrolled inflammation in the intestinal tract leads to ulcerations and symptoms of UC. After exercising, you may notice that your condition improves.
Exercise can also reduce your risk of colon cancer, which is a complication of UC. Regular exercise stimulates intestinal contractions and helps food pass through the digestive system quicker, reducing gastrointestinal exposure to carcinogens.
Some people feel that they don’t have time to exercise. But it doesn’t take a lot of time to reap the benefits of a healthy exercise routine. In fact, you only need about two and a half hours of moderate-intensity exercise a week.
There are many different options when it comes to exercise. You may find that one works for you and your UC symptoms better than another.
Managing UC symptoms often involves medication and dietary changes. But since stress can exacerbate UC, it’s also important to reduce your stress levels.
One activity that can help you get some exercise and reduce stress is yoga.
Yoga can help if you have moderate or severe UC pain and prefer a low-impact option. These gentle movements not only reduce stress, but also build muscle strength and improve joint flexibility.
One study examined 77 people living with UC who reported a decrease in quality of life due to their condition. Participants were separated into two groups. One group went weekly to 12 supervised yoga sessions that lasted for 90 minutes, while the other group took other self-care measures.
The study found that after week 12, a greater number of participants in the yoga group reported an increase in quality of life. After 24 weeks, the yoga group reported lower disease activity than the self-care group.
Yoga is safe, but injury can result from repetitive strain or over-stretching. To get started, find a qualified yoga teacher or sign up for a beginner yoga classes at a gym or community center. You’ll learn about different yoga styles and the proper way to perform poses.
Running is an excellent way to improve cardiovascular health and tone your muscles. This activity can also ease stress and keep your bowels functioning properly, but running isn’t right for everyone.
Some people experience runner’s diarrhea after a run. Symptoms of this condition include intestinal cramping and loose stools. People living with UC are also susceptible to this condition, and an intense run can exacerbate their symptoms.
Talk to your doctor to see whether running is the right activity for you. You may have to start with a brisk walk for 10 minutes a day. Then, you can gradually increase your intensity, working up to a slow jog.
If you experience a flare-up, reduce the intensity of your run or go on walks instead.
Cycling is another exercise to get physically fit, reduce stress, and manage inflammation in your body. It’s also a low-impact workout, which might be better if moderate-intensity workouts exacerbate your symptoms.
A slow bike ride is also easier on your joints than other types of exercises. Start with short rides a few days a week for 10 or 15 minutes. Slowly increase the length of your rides or the number of days you cycle.
Biking can be your main physical activity for the week. Or, you can combine it with other activities for a total of the recommended 150 minutes of exercise every week.
Swimming is another option if you’re looking for a low-impact workout to build endurance, strengthen your muscles, and maintain a healthy weight.
Use a pool at a local gym or community center, or sign up for aqua fitness classes. Start slow with 5- to 10-minute laps of easy swimming, and then add 5 minutes to your swim time each week.
Choose an intensity that doesn’t aggravate your symptoms.
UC also puts you at risk of osteoporosis, a disease that weakens your bones. This is because anti-inflammatory medications used to treat UC can interfere with bone-building cells. Often, this can result in a greater risk of fractures.
To strengthen and encourage bone health, incorporate more weight-bearing exercises to your regimen. Examples include tennis, dancing, and strength training with free weights, weight machines, or resistance training.
Before jumping right into a strength-training program, you may want to consider working with a fitness trainer to learn proper techniques. This can help you avoid injury.
Exercising with UC isn’t always easy. It can be especially hard to get moving during a flare-up. But increasing your level of physical activity can reduce inflammation and help you feel better.
The right exercises depend on the severity of your symptoms and what you can tolerate. Speak with your doctor for guidance on choosing appropriate workouts to avoid triggering a flare.
Always begin a new exercise at a lower intensity. If a particular exercise triggers diarrhea or other symptoms, switch to another workout or reduce your intensity.