10 Ways to Kickstart Fitness With Crohn's

Health Writer
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Some people can just jump right into an exercise program. But if you have Crohn’s disease, beginning to exercise can be difficult for a variety of reasons. Even though exercise is recommended for those with Crohn’s, physical activity may be the last thing you want to do for fear of making your body feel worse. But a change of mindset and these helpful tips can help you get on the road to fitness and help you feel better overall. Read on for 10 ways to set yourself up for success in your fitness pursuits.


Understand the importance of exercise

The research is becoming more and more clear on the benefits of exercise if you are living with Crohn’s disease. Those with Crohn’s who participate in higher levels of exercise are significantly less likely to develop active disease six months later. Exercise also has a positive effect on mood, weight maintenance, and osteoporosis. Additionally, regular physical activity has anti-inflammatory effects that are extremely beneficial for Crohn’s disease.


Face the uncertainty

Many of us with a chronic illness have complex relationships with our bodies because we feel they have turned on us when we least expected it. It is important to understand and acknowledge that the uncertainty you feel about your body is valid. You can push through this situation with the help of positive self-talk: “My body has not always responded the way I thought it should, but exercise will help me get to know my body even better.”


Keep a flexible mindset

All bodies are unique. That is why no single exercise regimen is good for everyone. If you have Crohn’s, you may need to work around your flares. You may also need more time to begin an exercise program than others. Depending on your comfort level, you can choose to work out privately or near a restroom. It is important to maintain flexibility and not judge yourself harshly if you need to pivot from your original fitness plan.


Stay in your own lane

Working out with others can be a great motivational tactic. But if you choose to exercise with a partner or in a class, it can come with challenges too. More than once, I have had health coaching clients come to me feeling low because they are not able to do the same amount of exercise as their workout partners or others their age. It makes them feel depressed. With or without a chronic illness, reaching peak performance is about listening to your own body, responding appropriately, and investing long term in your health.


You may feel worse temporarily

Feeling worse is not always a bad thing when you are exercising. Exercise can make you feel short of breath, create sore muscles, and make gastrointestinal symptoms such as reflux worse in the short term. You may also need to figure out the exercises that feel the best on your body. However, the key thing to remember when you do feel uncomfortable is that moderate exercise may actually diminish some symptoms of Crohn’s, according to experimental and clinical evidence, and it’s good for your overall health, too.


Know that you are strong and capable

If you have Crohn’s disease, you may feel weak and uncertain some days. However, if you are capable of managing a chronic disease as complicated as Crohn’s, you are likely not only a strong person but also an incredibly smart person. It is important to focus on these traits as you begin an exercise program.


Find role models

There have been many world class athletes with Crohn’s who have been incredibly successful in their pursuits. There are also many college and everyday athletes who are extremely athletic in spite of chronic disease. While Crohn’s disease can make exercise a little more complicated, it should not prevent you from reaching for the stars in the world of sports.


Spoil yourself with accessories

On those days when my body is not cooperating in the fitness department, I will still treat myself to some cool exercise gear to keep my head in the game. Think headbands, fun leggings, a new yoga mat, or a fancy water bottle. Just knowing that you have some nice gear waiting for you can help you get back in the game sooner.


Look for fun activities

Exercise doesn't have to be limited to running and lifting weights. A lifelong fitness program should involve fun activities like rock wall climbing, hot yoga, and line dancing. As you prepare for your jump into fitness, make sure you are choosing activities that you will enjoy. But before you jump into anything new or extreme, it’s always safest to check with your doctor first.


Exercise patience

Stress can make Crohn’s worse. Therefore, if you are feeling frustrated by your fitness progress, that can work against you. Instead, commit to your fitness as a long-term goal, knowing that you may start out slower than you’d like. Some days, your progress may feel like one step forward and two steps backward. Being patient and learning to love the process is key. What you do not want to do is avoid exercise because of your condition. You have to find a way to stay active that works for you. Good luck!