Do you want to start exercising again but you’re not sure where to start? Here are 5 tips from a Crohn's and colitis expert and certified personal trainer to get you started.
Note: always talk to your doctor prior to starting an exercise program to ensure it's safe
1. Learn the facts about exercise and IBD
Exercise has a number of benefits when you have Crohn’s or colitis including
- Decreased fatigue
- Increased IBD-related quality of life
- Improved cardiorespiratory fitness
- Increased lean tissue mass
According to research studies, exercise appears to be safe for people with IBD and it does not increase the risk for active disease.
2. Combat common IBD-related barriers to exercise
Common barriers include
- Fatigue - can you start with a smaller goal, like walking to the mailbox and back? Have you had your nutrient levels checked recently? If you have active disease, do you need your medication adjusted to reduce your fatigue?
- Joint pain - are there any exercises that feel good for your body? Consider starting with stretching and then progress to more active movement as you feel comfortable.
- Bowel urgency - can you workout close to home or in the garage? Be sure to work with a dietitian to identify any foods in your diet that may be contributing to urgency and find better tolerated alternatives to substitute in their place.
- Abdominal pain - abdominal pain can be caused by a number of factors including inflammation, scar tissue build up, or constipation. Are there certain movements that feel comfortable for you that you can focus on? Be sure to talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing abdominal pain and have them adjust your treatment plan as needed.
3. Create goals
Think about the fitness goals that will be most meaningful to you. No goal is too big or too small. Example goals include
- Improving cardiovascular fitness by completing a 5k or no longer feeling out of breath when you walk up and down the stairs.
- Gaining strength as measured by being able to do 20 push ups or just feeling stronger overall
4. Set yourself up for success
Think about what you need to do to make exercise a habit. Some activities that may help include
- Scheduling exercise into your calendar, even if it’s just for a few minutes
- Bringing your workout clothes with you to work or school
- Planning for childcare and other obstacles that may prevent you from exercising
Keep in mind that just because it's scheduled, doesn't mean you have to go. Listen to your body if it's not up for movement that day.
5. Start with small steps
Starting with small goals and building up to larger goals over time can make it easier to get started with exercise when you’ve been out of the habit for a while. Some examples of small goals include:
- Walking to the mailbox and back
- Doing 1 set of 12 walking lunges down the hallway
- Stretching for 5 minutes
Bonus tip: give yourself some grace
You may not be as strong or fast as you were before you had IBD or before your flare, and that’s okay. Remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can and that’s good enough!
- Davis SP, Crane PB, Bolin LP, Johnson LA. An integrative review of physical activity in adults with inflammatory bowel disease. Intest Res. 2022 Jan;20(1):43-52. doi: 10.5217/ir.2020.00049. Epub 2021 Jan 22. PMID: 33472342; PMCID: PMC8831770.