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Crohn's Advice Column

Work Up the Courage to Feel Good by Working Out

I think of exercise as my natural antidepressant. That’s one of the reasons it’s so important for me to stay physically active, since as a person living with Crohn’s disease, sometimes it’s hard to keep a positive outlook. In this article, we’ll consider how exercise can help you feel more upbeat, get better in tune with your body, and help prepare you for potential obstacles in your life with Crohn’s. (Read more about the benefits of exercise for people with Crohn’s in the Summer 2010 issue of Crohn’s Advocate magazine.)

Warm up to working out

If you are struggling with incontinence because of your Crohn’s, the mere mention of working out can be terrifying. But with the right preparations, you can find ways to exercise. Find out where the restrooms are, so you can be sure you’ll know where to go in case you need to. Consider limiting your solid food intake in the few hours before exercising, but make sure you are adequately fueled for exercise and not depriving yourself of nutrients. Remember to drink plenty of fluids before and after, especially if you experience diarrhea. Finally, tell your physician any concerns you may have about exercising. He or she can guide you and perhaps suggest some useful and creative ideas to help.

Do what works for you

Part of the challenge of starting an exercise routine is finding the kind of exercise that will work best with your body, keeping in mind that your body’s needs may change over time. If you’ve been hit by a bad Crohn’s flare, you’ll recall how weak your muscles can feel afterwards. At this point, remember that different kinds of exercise may be better for you at different times. For instance, gentle aerobic exercise such as brisk walking can be a great way to start moving again.

Joint pain may also be a common experience for those living with Crohn’s disease, and it’s a factor to consider when choosing an exercise routine. If you are experiencing joint pain, perhaps lower-impact activities like swimming or yoga would be a better fit for you. Your doctor will be able to tell you what kind of activities will be best for you.

Above all, it’s important to listen to what your body is telling you. It is a guide to finding an exercise that you can do safely.

Exercise in company

Living with Crohn’s can feel isolating at times, so remember that exercising can be a great way to spend time with the people in your life or to get to know new people. Consider joining a sports team, enlisting a gym buddy, or just asking a friend to go for a walk. The activity and good company may boost your mood and your heart rate! Be sure to consult your doctor before starting any exercise regimen.

Exercise and cherish your body

Even if a bad flare has exhausted you, or you feel especially drained following surgery, remember that resuming some form of enjoyable exercise is a sign that you are returning back to independence and your self-care routine. Even though finding time to exercise can be challenging, it might be good motivation to try recalling what it felt like to be sick and unable to exercise. Remember that feeling when you find yourself unenthusiastic about exercising. Any time that you can spend strengthening your body is a privilege, one that Crohn’s can sometimes deprive you of. Take advantage of those opportunities when you can work out! You should consult your doctor about ways you can lead a more active lifestyle, as your doctor is your best resource for health management.

Find a different kind of strength

Part of living with Crohn’s disease may mean living in a state of unknowing. You simply may not know with certainty when you will have your next flare. But knowing that you can handle walking that line between health and illness isn’t just scary, it is also liberating. (Read more about coping with Crohn’s in the Fall 2010 issue of Crohn’s Advocate magazine.) I recently completed my first half-marathon, and training for that experience meant grueling workouts day in and day out. But it also meant I no longer needed to depend on good health in order to take care of myself, be brave, and try new things. In accepting that I was vulnerable, I was also empowered.

I encourage you to find the same inspiration and physical power in yourself.