As someone who suffers with ulcerative colitis (UC), I understand the strain of trying to maintain a healthy body. We battle with fatigue, constant bowel movements, weight loss and what seems like, never-ending pain. Doctors will tell you to change your diet and prescribe different medications to keep symptoms at bay.
But what about other problems, such as low bone density and colon cancer, that can also develop because of the illness? This is where I believe exercise can help. Lifting weights has been a part of my life for awhile. But now that I am battling UC, it is not just a way to improve my physique, it may decrease my risk of developing other problems associated with the chronic illness – and there is scientific evidence to back this up.
Researches at Washington University Medical School have determined that exercise may be the best weapon to minimize the risk of colon cancer. One of the studies had found that people who were physically active for four or more hours in a week reduced their risk of colon cancer by 20 percent, and those who exercised at least five hours in the week had lowered the risk to 25 percent. You can do aerobics, go for a bike ride, hit the dance floor, shoot some hoops or even do some laps in the pool. The idea is to get your body moving, blood flowing and to work up a sweat!
One thing I was surprised to learn is that UC can lower bone density and according to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, 30 percent to 60 percent of patients with an inflammatory bowel disease will experience this. It can be a result of changes in proteins associated with the response to inflammation or even medication used to fight the illness. I have heard that some people with ulcerative colitis have developed osteoporosis and was shocked because they were in their late 20s, early 30s -which is far too young to for this to happen. However, you can take action right now by strengthening your bones. When exercising, old bone is removed and new bone is rebuilt in its place. And the best type of exercise for this, according to science, is weight-bearing workouts. This includes, weight training, walking, jogging and climbing stairs -tennis and dancing fall into this category as well. These types of workouts can also reduce joint inflammation, another problem one in four people with inflammatory bowel disease experience, which is also caused by certain medications and a lack of nutrition due to constant diarrhea and intestinal bleeding.
Strength training appears to be the best option for those with ulcerative colitis, as it can improve bone density and metabolic rates and increase muscle tone. Specialists have even said that losing fat around the belly can also help with digestion. The best way to do this is to incorporate cardio and weight lifting into your workout regiment. But for those new to the fitness scene, you are not going to run to the gym and start throwing weights around like Lou Ferrigno -please don’t. I suggest starting out with light weight dumbbells to get the feel of weights. This will allow you to figure out how much you can withstand and help you learn movements when using them.
It might also be wise to use the machines at a gym, which help position your hands, legs and posture correctly. There are diagrams on machines that will guide you in how to properly use it. Once you feel comfortable using dumbbells and machines, you can then move your way to the cables and barbell weights. And if you are completely lost with what exercise to do, checkout Instagram and YouTube, they offer a slew of free workout videos! But one thing I cannot stress enough is do not be afraid to ask for help. Some many times do I see people working out incorrectly and not only is the time spent at the gym worthless, but you may also end up hurting yourself.
If weights intimidate you, look into Barre, Pilates or Yoga. I have never been one to workout without weights, but these three exercises seem to be great for beginners and are easier on the body. They entail slower and more controlled movements that put minimal impact on the joints and they focus on breathing, which can help relieve stress –a known culprit of flare-ups.
Those with ulcerative colitis often relapse at times of stress, but studies have shown that Yoga has the power to curb anxiety. A clinical trial, conducted last year, used 77 patients with UC who were experiencing reduced quality of life because of the illness, according to a press release. Patients were asked to participate in 12 supervised 90-minute weekly sessions of yoga and in the end, all reported an increase in quality of life and reduced activity of their colitis compared to those who were given written self-care advice.
YouTuber, Sara Beth, has put together a really great video that includes poses which may help with UC symptoms.
All forms of Yoga have been found to help people de-stress, but many swear by Yoga Asanas to help aid digestive problems and have said it could be very successful in helping those with UC. This type of Yoga supports circulation to the digestive organs, strengthens muscular supports surrounding the digestive organs and helps ease the path of food through the body. There are static poses that strengthen and stretch the abdominal region while stimulating good elimination of food. There are also dynamic poses that bend, stretch and twist the core area to aid blood and lymph flow. However, if you are experiencing diarrhea or constipation, experts have suggested that it is wise to steer clear of Yoga, as it may heighten symptoms.
If there is one tip I can share for anyone working out while suffering with ulcerative colitis is to listen to your body. There are going to be times where you are too weak to lift weights, but you can trade a lift session for a good run or low impact aerobic workout. It is important to be flexible with your schedule, because, as you know, every day with UC is different. Make sure to stay hydrated and do not take Ibuprofen for muscles aches -it can trigger s flare up. Also, it is good to understand that there are going to be days when you are too exhausted to even get out of bed, let alone get a workout in -and that is fine. I have missed multiple gym days in a row during an intense flare-up and although I had struggled with it at the time, looking back now I know skipping a few days did not ruin the work I have done, but allowed me to do better the next time I was able to make it to the gym.
For those new to working out, I understand that at first it will seem like a chore. Its tiring and feels more like an obligation than treatment. But look at it as part of your regiment. Just as you take medication everyday, set time aside to do some sort of workout. After a few weeks it may just feel like part of your routine and you might even look forward to.