Exercise and Ulcerative Colitis

Lately I’ve been told people are surprised to hear I CrossFit with ulcerative colitis. Actually, many friends and acquaintances are shocked I CrossFit regardless of my disease. Haha! If you know me, you know I’ve never been a fan of working out, sports, or any sort of activity which causes physical exhaustion. Before CrossFit I was never a member of a gym. Well, I took a TRX class at a local women’s fitness center once. It was cute and was the first time I attended a gym. So I don’t blame the people who were skeptical of my new membership to CrossFit Strongtown.

Most fellow IBDers can’t imagine exerting themselves for longer than 5 minutes without pooping their pants. It’s astonishing to report that I have never pooped my pants at CrossFit. You’re welcome, Strongtown. 😉 Even during a flare!

There is research available all over the internet about the topic of IBD and exercise. With any personal disease there are strong opinions and every individual is affected differently. Check out one of the studies done on exercise and IBD here.

Is exercise okay when I have ulcerative colitis?

Yes. In fact, I encourage to move your body as much as possible. Physical activity is important when you’ve got ulcerative colitis. One reason is because it helps de-stress and we all know how stress can reek havoc on our disease. Another attractive benefit to exercising is that studies show it helps boost immune system functions.

With this said, there are risks associated. You must be cautious and listen to your body. One simple risk of too much exercise is passing out mid-workout because you’re dehydrated and anemic from a flare. So, be aware of what your body is telling you.

So, yes, exercise is beneficial when you have Inflammatory Bowel Disease. But it’s important to be smart about it. Below are some tips when working out with and IBD.


GRADUALLY INTRODUCE A ROUTINE: Slow and steady wins the race.

Adjust your body gradually helps your muscles adapt to the change. Going too hard too fast will only set you back. This is advice for anyone, not just IBD sufferers. You don’t want to go too hard too fast. I recommend incorporating low intensity exercising. Moderate walking or low impact cardio, maybe a little light strength training 3 times a week is a great start.

I didn’t just begin CrossFit the day I healed from a flare. And I certainly didn’t start CrossFit with full intensity my first month. There is risk for injury or prolonged healing time if you start too hard too fast. Sure, you’re excited at the prospect of getting your body moving, but running 7 miles on your first day when you do not normally run may be too ambitious.

img-thingDRINK WATER: Drink more water than you think is necessary.

You are more prone to dehydration when you’re flaring. But in general, water makes up a ton of your body mass… your muscles are about 70% water. That’s impressive. If you aren’t drinking enough water when you exercise you’re muscles are like, “help me… help me… I’m melting”. Then you get sore and your body is working extra hard to fix itself when, really, it should be concentrating on healing your colon!

Some sources argue over the kind of water you drink. Tap water can be high in chlorine which may throw your gut bacteria out of whack. Try distilled water because having this disease isn’t inconvenient enough already… you can’t drink regular water like regular people either! 😉

You can also hydrate with an ice cold Hydrating Fruitsicle after a workout!

funny-pictures-this-fish-is-holding-his-breathBREATHE: Oxygen is your friend.

During exercise your muscles require more oxygen than normal. I know this may sound crazy, but the way you get oxygen is by breathing. Breathing too shallow, breathing too fast, or holding your breath can actually hurt your workout routine. Not only does breathing help you perform better, but it prevents your body from over-exhausting itself. WHen your body is fueled by oxygen you’re able to perform a harder routine, have a wider range of motion, and do more in a shorter time frame. Proper breathing guides stress to healthy levels. When you breath correctly your stress and cortisol levels. Here’s an article on some techniques for various types of exercise.


run to the bathroom

FIND A BATHROOM and PLAN TOILET BREAKS: This is a skill that UCers are the best at.

We always know where there is a bathroom. If you’re at your regular gym you obviously know where the toilet is. But what about when you sign up for a 5k? Or go for a hike? Or go out water skiing? If I had a dime for every time I asked “Excuse me, sir, can you tell me where your restrooms are?” I would be RICH. So just ask. Don’t let the possibility of pooping your pants during a race deter you from doing it. Ask where the Porto-potties are along the way. Bring toilet paper on your long hike. Stay on the machine closest to the gym bathroom. Do what you have to do, but don’t let your disease keep you from being active.

????????????????GO EASY DURING A FLARE: Respect the healing process.

This seems really obvious. If you’re bleeding in the bathroom 10 times a day I probably don’t need to tell you not to run 20 miles. However, I know how addicted some people get to exercise. It’s important to remember that if you have moderate to severe disease activity there are exercises you should be avoiding. The higher the disease activity the lower the intensity should be.

rest-dayREST: Don’t overdo it.

This is both for when you’re in  a flare AND when you’re in remission. Listen to your body. If you are tired…rest. It’s that simple. You don’t have to ‘go hard’ at the gym every time you’re there. Some days I purposely do not push myself to the fullest during a CrossFit WOD (workout of the day). I know my limits and I know I’m getting a good workout regardless of adding twenty extra pounds to the bar.

More importantly, remember rest days! If your body is working overtime to heal your muscles then how can it concentrate on healing your guts, too? That’s asking a lot. Be nice to your body. Whether or not you have an autoimmune disease our bodies and muscles need time to heal and regenerate. Resting is just as important to your body as working out.

Always eat clean! It will make all the tips above easier when your body is fueled properly. MANGIA!

4 thoughts on “Exercise and Ulcerative Colitis

  1. milesandmilesinTexas

    My UC has been in remission for a long time but I have a hard time exercising if I am really flared up. It just makes everything worse. As far as races/hiking/long events and bathroom access, my gastroenterologist gave me permission to take an immodium every day when I was participating in the Breast Cancer 3 Day. It kept me from having the where is the bathroom NOW moments while walking.

    1. mangiapaleo Post author

      I’m glad to hear you’re in remission! Congrats! It’s interesting that exercise is the factor to get a flare going. I haven’t turned to immodium for those short stints, but I’m glad it worked out for you. If you don’t experience side effects and you’re only taking it for a day or two that could be a good alternative for things like races/etc. However, it certainly messes with your natural gut rhythm and simply covers up the problem instead of solving it. Interesting experience!

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