Exercise is good for everyone for lots of reasons. It strengthens your muscles, improves your cardiovascular system, reduces stress, increases well-being, and it even promotes effective digestion. For people living with Crohn’s, exercise is even more important because it will aid a faster recovery from flare-ups which can trigger muscle weakness, joint pain, and bouts of incontinence.
Most challenging of all, for a person living with Crohn’s, is the stressful impact the disease can have on the type of lifestyle that most of us take for granted – coming and going as we please, eating when we want to, and feeling physically well most of the time. Anxiety about where the bathroom is, how easy it is to get to if the need is urgent, whether the time that they ate a meal will impact on their attempt to exercise, socialize, or even work effectively, are all issues that will affect the Crohn’s sufferer’s sense of emotional well-being. It’s not surprising then, that someone who is learning to live with Crohn’s is going to feel a litter anxious about starting to establish some sort of exercise regime.
However, by taking a few simple steps, it is possible to enjoy any sort of exercise you like – from yoga to team sports to something as extreme as wrestling (George “the Animal” Steele of World Wrestling Entertainment battled Crohn’s with medication for fourteen years before having surgery, demonstrating that it is even possible to engage in a high impact contact sport while living with Crohn’s). If you are just setting out on your path toward sporting activity, diving headlong into wrestling or rugby, may not be the best first step.
Before you get started, it’s a really good idea to talk to your doctor. They probably know you and your particular set of issues better than anyone, and are best placed to advise you about setting goals and limits. They may even be able to refer you to a coach or mentor who will be able to support you.
Second, think about what type of sport you really enjoy – is it something you can do on your own, or with a buddy, and you can set your own pace and routine? Consider something low-impact like brisk walking, cycling, or swimming. These are all great for increasing your heart rate, and improving your muscle strength and stamina, without imposing any additional pain or discomfort to muscles or joints that may already be weak or painful. Yoga or Pilates are good for relieving stress and increasing muscle strength, and depending on where you live, you can probably find a class at a time that works for you. If you really want to join a team, then perhaps you should consider letting your coach know about your condition, so that you can work up gradually to becoming a fully active team member. It’s important to know what you can do, how far you can push yourself, and to find out what your limitations are.
Lastly, make it a habit to take mental note of where the bathroom is, and how you can get to it quickly, if you have to. Tell your instructor or coach about your condition, and that you may have to leave a game or session abruptly. Drink lots of water before and after a workout. Remaining hydrated is important for everyone, but for someone with Crohn’s it can prevent a flare-up of chronic diarrhea.
There is no particular type of exercise that is best suited to the Chron’s sufferer. You can do any type of exercise or sport you like. By listening to your body, setting some great, positive, sensible goals, and take heed of the signs or symptoms of a flare-up as soon as you notice them, you will be able to choose your sport freely. Whatever you choose, remain committed to regular involvement, and it will be the key both to your speedy recovery and to your minimization of flare-ups.