5 Fixes for Exercising With Ulcerative Colitis
It can be done — with “moderation and flexibility,” says Abby Bales, a UC patient with a doctorate in physical therapy (PT), specializing in pelvic health. She recommends that you don’t get hung up on your exercise plan because your body might not cooperate, and that’s OK.
“Do what you can and be consistent with your effort,” Dr. Bales says.
Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of exercise with UC and how to address common workout anxieties.
The Benefits of Exercise With UC
Why should you work out with UC? Because exercise can help inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Dr. Bales says. It reduces stress, builds muscle mass, and puts you back in control of your health: “As a patient with chronic illness, I often felt powerless as to what my body was doing and how I could help myself,” she says. “With a regular exercise routine and goals, each workout has purpose and gave me the confidence I needed to take on my disease.”
So what can you do when UC interferes with exercise?
The UC Issue: You feel that urgent need to go while you’re on the treadmill
You’re 10 minutes into walking on the treadmill and you feel that familiar pang in your gut. You need a bathroom, and fast. But you also need to consistently exercise, and jumping off the treadmill to head for the gym restroom doesn’t seem to support that.
What do you do?
The fix: Use HIIT to your advantage
You go, Dr. Bales says.
“Get off, go to the bathroom, get back on. You’ll be great at intervals.”
And getting great at high-intensity interval training (HIIT) has been shown to protect cells from aging, create new muscle growth, and help you stick to your exercising goals, according to the Mayo Clinic.
So getting off and back on the treadmill because of UC can actually be useful to your exercise routine. Who knew?
The UC Issue: You're at a yoga class and you have an accident
Deep into downward-facing dog at yoga, you feel something uncomfortable and familiar. You’ve had an accident. What now?
The Fix: Hope for the best, prepare for the worst with UC
Travel with extra clothes and a plastic bag when taking classes, Dr. Bales recommends.
“Set up near the door and communicate with the instructor prior to class that you may need to leave because of a medical condition,” she says.
Accidents happen. Just understand that everyone has experiences like these when they have a chronic illness like UC. You’re not alone (though it might feel isolating in the moment).
“Change your clothes, and get back on the mat if you’re feeling up to it,” Dr. Bales says.
The UC Issue: You want to go to the gym but have chronic diarrhea
You want to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but you’re in the middle of a flare with chronic diarrhea. Is exercise even possible?
The Fix: Know your best options for working out with UC
Knowing your best exercising options to minimize issues can make the difference with diarrhea. At Dr. Bales’ sickest, she would run on the treadmill closest to the door, or do a spin class because she’s less symptomatic on a bike. What exercise equipment feels best for you? Use that, she recommends. Strength training and other workouts with less impact may work. Also, visit the gym at the times when you’re most likely to be in control of your bowels, she says.
The UC Issue: You're too fatigued to exercise
You’re so tired, you can barely get through the day. So how do you add in exercise when UC is exhausting you?
The Fix: Rest when you need to
Don’t push yourself — while yes, exercise is important, taking care of yourself is too. “Chronic illness is a marathon, not a sprint,” Dr. Bales says. Some days, you can only walk around the block: “and that’s OK.”
“Recognize when you’re feeling better and take advantage of those days for a little more challenge to your activity,” she says.
The UC Issue: You need to put weight on — not lose it
Excessive weight loss from UC making weight gain a real issue for you? It can be tough to know how to exercise to build up body mass instead of losing it — which is what many think of as the main goal of exercise. But it’s doable — very doable. But how?
The Fix: Exercise helps you gain weight gain with UC
Strength training. It can help increase your appetite. Dr. Bales elaborates: “Lifting weights and adding muscle as well as working with a registered dietitian to maximize your caloric intake with nutritiously beneficial foods is a safe and effective way to improve your body mass index at any stage.”
Here's What to Remember When Exercising With UC
Don’t forget to hydrate. Drinking water is important for everyone, but especially when you’re dealing with the dehydrating symptoms of UC. Don’t forget to consult your doctor before starting any exercise regime. And finally, don’t forget to be easy on yourself.
“Be patient with your body,” Dr. Bales says. “Be kind to your body. Consistency is key. Rest when you need it. It will help in the long run. Don’t limit what you can do, and try new things.”