8 Tips to Start Running With Crohn's Disease
Last updated: October 2022
Studies have shown that exercise may impact the development and course of IBD.1 However, there are many barriers around it.
Lots of us worry about the impact exercise could have on our Crohn's symptoms, whether that's due to things like worsening diarrhea, causing fatigue, or making hydration levels harder to keep on top of.
Crohn’s and exercise anxiety
It's also quite anxiety-inducing. If we go to an exercise class, what happens if we need to rush out halfway through? Or if we go for a run, what happens if we suddenly need the toilet and are stranded in the middle of nowhere?
While exercising with IBD can cause anxiety, we know that exercise can also help reduce our stress levels and potentially our mental health, whether that's due to getting our heart rate going or getting outdoors.
Trying to exercise when we do feel well is probably a good habit to get into, and one of the most straightforward is running. You don't need fancy equipment, you can take it at your own pace, and it's a great excuse to get outdoors. Here are my tips for starting running with Crohn's disease.
Running with Crohn's disease
1. Plan your route
Planning your route can help alleviate some of the worries around needing the toilet. Start with a place you know well or use an app that can help you find where the nearest public toilets are.
I started running in a small circuit so I knew I was never far from my home. It also meant I could pace myself, doing just one circuit if I was low in energy or more if I was feeling up to it.
2. Pick your workout gear carefully
Another tip is to pick your running gear carefully and practice exercising in it before you head outdoors. For example, do you need a higher-waisted pair of leggings in case of bloating and discomfort? Or a looser pair of trousers altogether?
3. Stay hydrated throughout
Make sure you drink plenty of water before and after your workout. You might want to consider using an electrolyte solution if you're worried about potentially dehydrating or at high risk of this due to an ostomy. Alternatively, take water on your run, too, and stop for regular breaks.
4. Start really gradually
It can be tempting to just start running and see how far you can get, but this strategy hasn't worked well for me. It's worth noting that suddenly starting high-intensity exercise without warming up could put stress on the body and you might find that this aggravates symptoms.
In my case, I found running too fast without warming up caused diarrhea and seemed to increase my acid reflux too. Using an app like "Couch to 5k" can help take you from no exercise to running confidently at a steady, consistent pace.
5. Beware of chafing
As you run more, you might notice some chaffing. This happens when skin rubs together, and in my case, I noticed chafing happened near my fistulotomy wound as the skin there was more sensitive. You can stop chaffing by using a barrier cream such as vaseline.
6. Don't eat immediately before exercising
Eating immediately before exercise can cause stomach cramps and, in my personal experience, seems to lead to more diarrhea.
The exception is a snack, such as a banana, which can help give you energy for the run without causing your gut issues as it tries to digest a full meal and deal with the run! Eating afterward can help your energy levels too.
7. Plan an uplifting playlist
Another way to motivate yourself to run is to plan a compelling playlist to listen to. Not only does this entertain you, but I've found it helps me exercise longer and takes my mind off worrying about a potential mid-run flare-up. This could be your favourite songs or even a podcast.
8. Find others in the same boat
One way to increase your running motivation is to connect with fellow Crohn's or ulcerative colitis patients who run. Scroll Instagram for hashtags such as #crohnsfit and #spooniefitness to follow other people's experiences with exercise and chronic conditions.
Editor’s note: Before starting a new exercise routine, it is recommended to talk with your healthcare team to find out what is healthy for you.
What has been the most helpful for managing IBD symptoms?