9 Best Tips for Exercising With Ulcerative Colitis

by Mandy Patterson Patient Expert

Hitting the gym can be a chore when you’ve got zero health issues. Add in the fatigue and constipation of ulcerative colitis (UC), and working out can be downright painful. But it’s also important: Regular exercise provides numerous health benefits for people with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) like UC, including boosting immunity and decreasing inflammation. But what kinds of exercise won’t send you running to the bathroom mid-workout? As someone with UC myself, I’ve learned how to stay fit without inflaming my condition. Read on for my tips as well as advice from top experts.

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Skip High-intensity Workouts During Flares

Before you strap on running shoes and hit the trails, know that rigorous and intense exercise isn’t the best choice when you have bad UC symptoms, according to a study published in BioMed Research International. That’s because it can cause an inflammatory response in the body (on top of the inflammation already going on in UC). “Strenuous exercise should be avoided during flares,” gastroenterologist Michael Chiorean, M.D., director of the IBD Center of Excellence at Virginia Mason. Instead, focus on steady, regular exercise—which calms inflammation. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (like brisk walking) per week.

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Talk to a Friend While Walking

Heavy cardio workouts can be too taxing on our guts, sending us straight to the bathroom, but, like we said, walking is a great low-impact option. In fact, that study we just mentioned found that walking improved quality of life and stress levels for people with UC. One easy way to motivate? Grab a friend and chat as you go. Being able to still talk while you’re moving shows you’re in the right intensity zone. Walking with a buddy also makes the time fly, and I often end up walking longer than I normally would because I don’t want the conversation to end.

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Use Yoga to De-stress and Banish Constipation

Yoga takes you through slow movements to help build muscle strength, and it’s another low-impact exercise that’s been shown to increase reduce stress in people with IBD, according to a study in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy. Another bonus? Constipation is not a common symptom of UC but may occur in UC patients who achieve remission. Try these yoga poses to ease constipation from certified yoga instructor Melissa West.

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Ease Joint Pain With Pilates

The most typical symptom of IBD unrelated to your gut? Joint pain, according to the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation. Which, as anyone can imagine, can make fitness tricky. But Pilates is an option, because most classes focus on lengthening, strengthening, and breath control, and you can modify movements so they don’t bother your tender joints. According to the Arthritis Foundation, Pilates can help you become stronger and more flexible and increase your body control and endurance.

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Hit the Barre to Increase Muscle Mass

According to a report in Clinical and Experimental Gastroenterology, muscle-building exercises are helpful when you have IBD because many of us struggle with low muscle mass due to the disease or medication side effects. But you don’t want to be lifting super-heavy. That’s where Barre classes come in. Classes usually start with a warm-up where you use very light weight, along with your body weight, to work your upper body muscles. Then you move on to your abs, legs, and butt to tone those muscles as well.

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Communicate With Your Instructor

If you’re doing a workout class, don’t be afraid to show up early and chat with your instructor. You never have to tell someone you have UC unless you want to, but it’s always good to let your instructor know about any limitations—even if it's like this: “Hey, just so you’re aware, I have a digestive condition that makes certain movements more difficult for me.” They can provide some modifications and give you additional advice during a class. If you’re not even sure where to begin with a workout regimen, consider partnering with a personal trainer who can personalize a routine to your needs.

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Consider certain sports

"Slow" sports provide a way for you to connect with others. Think: golf and bowling, which don’t require a ton of exertion. Or, if you’re up for it, softball is also a fun choice, because it’s not the kind of thing where you typically overdo it. Join a local league, or reach out to your friends and plan a day at the golf course!

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Try Online Workout Programs

For many of us with UC, {increased fatigue](https://www.healthcentral.com/slideshow/dealing-with-fatigue-with-ulcerative-colitis) can make mustering the energy to go to a class feel impossible. Other times, you may prefer to work out at home so you can stay close to your own bathroom. I've used online programs like Studio Tone It Up and BeachBody PiYo, which offer a variety of videos with different types of exercises. For Pilates, I highly recommend Pop Pilates for their fun, mood-lifting workouts.

Smiling woman stretching at the gym.
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Find Your Personal Rhythm

Working out with UC is going to be a different experience for everyone. You're going to have to try a variety of programs to find something that sticks, and you’ll get the best results when you customize your exercise experience to your goals and capabilities.

Mandy Patterson
Meet Our Writer
Mandy Patterson

Mandy is a patient expert and advocate for ulcerative colitis and inflammatory bowel disease. She started down the road to advocacy after receiving an ulcerative colitis diagnosis in 2013, after experiencing complications of UC since 2010. She’s a full-time technical writer and technical writing instructor for Missouri State University, where she earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in professional writing. For her master’s thesis she wrote about the quality patient education materials for those diagnosed with UC, and the need for technical writers in the IBD medical field. Mandy is a Social Ambassador for the IBD HealthCentral Facebook page.