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Exercise and IBD: Friend or Foe?

Exercise and IBD: Friend or Foe?

I always like to try to lead as healthy a lifestyle as possible when it comes to IBD. However, one thing that I know I fall back on a lot is undoubtedly exercise. I know it’s good for me: physically but also mentally-given that stress is one of my IBD triggers; exercise helps me relax and soothes my anxiety. Yet keeping up a consistent exercise routine can also be a real struggle. Here’s what I’ve found works and what really doesn’t when it comes to IBD. I would love to hear your tips and suggestions too!

Exercise as a Friend.

  • For some reason, my symptoms tend to be worse in the morning; so I’ve found that doing a short burst of yoga or pilates before I eat really seems to calm my stomach. Of course, it’s often the last thing I want to do; but when I remember, it seems to quiet my gut until at least lunchtime. Sometimes I will try to do this before dinner too.
  • Walking is one of the best things for me when I’m anxious or under the weather. I tend to walk with my dogs, which is a great distraction from my symptoms and gives me some much needed feel-good hormones (Who couldn’t help but smile when they’re with their fluffy pals?)
  • That feeling that your body can accomplish something great. My favorite part of exercise is undoubtedly that feeling when it’s complete! A reminder that my body can push itself and succeed!
  • Online workouts are ideal. Yes, I know there are many benefits that come with training in a gym or part of an exercise class. But, anxiety can set in when surrounded by a group of people (especially when, like me, you feel like you’re always the first to grab the water or go into the rest position). I use youtube videos and online exercise programs to workout at my own pace without panic.

Exercise as a Foe

  • Runners Diarrhea is a real thing. I used to love running but I found that my stomach was not happy afterwards. Then I read about runners diarrhea; in which many people who run for long distances find that they suffer from loose stools (This is because food moves much more quickly through the gut. More here). Now I’m more of a power walk girl.
  • Swimming is out of the question. As someone who used to have a fistula, it’s taken me years to get back in the pool (and then, I’m cautiously only having a quick dip). Those with fistulas or abscesses should avoid swimming because of the risk of infection. Yes I know I consider myself as someone who ‘used to’ but the fear factor is still there. Hence why my cycling days are also long behind me.
  • I dehydrate so quickly. Not a reason to avoid exercise, but definitely one to be mindful of. I feel intensive cardio is not good for me: I get very hot and bothered (which by default leaves me running to the toilet it seems); I am exhausted and end of gulping down lots and lots of water.
  • I can’t stomach any of the suggested products. Protein powders made of whey or energy replacement drinks are out of the question for me. I do ok with small servings of pea or hemp protein but stick to water or rehydration sachets rather than sports drinks.
  • It takes me out of the equation for days. I’m always baffled how people exercise daily. It seems to take me much longer to recover from prolonged exercise: not just the achy muscles but the general lack of energy!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • thedancingcrohnie moderator
    1 year ago

    I can so agree with you with the convenience of online workouts! Anyone with IBD who doesn’t want to hit up a gym due to anxiety should definitely take advantage of online workout videos. They are so convenient and perfect for us IBDers who probably have to head to the bathroom once or twice while working out. No awkwardness when you are in the comfort of your own home!

    Always dancing,
    Elizabeth (team member)

  • David
    2 years ago

    I am a “Crohnie” who has lost my colon and have a permanent ileostomy (53 yo). My Crohns is not in remission, but not out of control either. Probably because I no longer have to run to the bathroom from cramps during exercise, makes my situation different than others. While I get tired faster than I used to, I dehydrate faster than anyone else and my body certainly aches and swells more than a normal person’s, I find that exercise has almost become a coping mechanism for me. I feel like a “normal” person when I exercise. It also has become a family event for my wife and kids to compete in triathlons together. I know everyone’s situation is so different, but I do so much better physically because of the emotional benefits of my exercise.

  • Pam.Kingsland moderator
    2 years ago

    I’m so happy to hear that exercising has helped you both mentally and physically and it’s so great that your whole family gets involved. Triathlons are no small feat!! Thanks for sharing your experience with the community – Pam (team member)

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