Exercising with Crohn’s Disease…



Exercise and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) are rarely mentioned in the same sentence.  This worries me because working out, exercising or becoming a bit more active, is of tremendous benefit for almost anyone who has IBD.  The problem – in my humble opinion – is the language and the corresponding negative associations.  For example, when most people think about working out, it conjures images of sweating, grunting and a superhuman effort to sculpt the proverbial body beautiful.  The word “exercise” often follows the same fate and “active lifestyle” is a term that’s so overused as to be nearly meaningless.

I will be the first to admit that when you have any form of IBD, your “workout” may consist of dragging your ass to the bathroom, remaining upright on the toilet and then back to bed, followed by sleeping for a few hours to recover.  Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.  Hence my beginners tips for IBD exercise:

Working out doesn’t have to mean working out:

One problem that working out has is the perceived complexity of it all.  For example, you have to pack your gym kit, travel to the gym, sign in, get a locker, get changed, fill your water bottle, do your work out, have a shower, get changed, pack everything up again, sign out, travel back home and put your kit in the laundry.  It’s a nightmare – even before you consider the amount of time it’s just taken out of your day.  With IBD, just getting to and from the gym is enough of an effort.  The dirty little secret is that most of the stuff you can do at a gym, you can do at home or in the great outdoors because it mainly revolves around two things; resistance and intensity.

Do what you can whenever you can (it’s a relative concept):

As long as you have muscles and joints – you can move.  ANY type of movement is the basis for working out.  Whether it’s walking to/from the bathroom, climbing stairs, dusting, vacuuming, carrying shopping… the list goes on.  The more bits you have moving, the more muscle you are using and the better things will be.  And just because you are not trying to bench press something the size of a Volkswagen Beetle, don’t be fooled into thinking you are not working out.  For example, assuming you can climb a set of stairs in your home, translate that into climbing stairs in an office block.  Same basic exercise and same basic resistance (i.e. using your own body weight) but you have just upped the workload.  If you can climb the stairs in an office block (or similar) try doing it more quickly to increase the intensity.  Start off small and keep it simple.  Little and often is definitely the way to go.

Fitness (as with much in life) is built on habit:

Little and often – as mentioned above – is the foundation of habit.  Some people call it “repetition being the Mother of skill.”  Whichever way you look at it, we all tend to have good and bad habits that dictate what we do on a daily basis.  Consistently integrating a little more activity into our daily routines is a very good thing to do – especially when you have IBD.  Your body was designed to move.  It needs to move and simply works better when you do.  Thanks to Crohn’s my life is already complicated enough, so I look upon things from a damage limitation point of view.  It’s about eliminating or minimising the variables that can directly impact my symptoms.  If I am out of shape, my body may not be able to cope as efficiently or effectively with the inevitable stresses and strains placed upon it.  In turn, this can exacerbate my Crohn’s Disease symptoms.  On the other hand, if I stick to my habit of regularly keeping active, my body will respond in a positive way.  I won’t have to worry about it so much –  leaving me free to concentrate on other things that will help me stay in remission.  So when it comes to fitness, my basic rules are:

  1. Keep it simple.  Overcomplicating things ensures that you won’t do something.
  2. Do what you can, whenever you can.  Little and often is the way to build a productive habit.
  3. You will have your good days and your bad days.  Keeping active should help you get more of the former and less of the latter.

Editor’s Note: Stephen Dempster is a monthly contributor to our blog. You can find Stephen on Google+ and on his blog Behind the Times. Stephen also is the creator of the Flipboard Magazine: A Little Behind The Times

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