Every human body needs exercise. Exercise strengthens the heart and increases circulation. The increase in blood flow raises oxygen levels and lowers your risk of heart disease and can even lower blood pressure. Regular exercise can reduce the loss of bone density and muscle mass while improving joint mobility. It can improve sleep, energy and even reduce the risk of some cancers. The benefits of exercise are undeniable … and yet, so many people with IBD think they don’t need to exercise.
People constantly say things like, “When I lift weights, I get diarrhea.” Or, “When I run, it hurts and I get diarrhea.” Ok, don’t lift weights. Don’t run. There are so many exercises out there, you don’t have to do something that causes you pain or triggers your symptoms. The strain from lifting weights can give anyone diarrhea, not just people with IBD.
For most IBD sufferers, low impact exercise is ideal. Exercises like yoga. However, yoga has a bad reputation in the IBD world. There are so many memes saying, “If another person tells me to try yoga, I’m going to slap them.” Why? Why would you want to slap someone suggesting a way for you to reduce the joint pain you’ve been complaining about? Why would you want to slap someone suggesting a way to reduce the constant fatigue you experience?
The level of fatigue most IBD sufferers deal with on a daily basis is unreal. Exhausted doesn’t even begin to adequately describe how I felt every day while I was actively sick. Even in remission, fatigue is still an on-going battle. But that’s more of a reason to exercise, not an excuse to avoid it.
When I was really sick, it was extremely difficult to exercise because I woke up exhausted. Then I would exert all of my energy having bloody diarrhea and getting dressed. Then I would somehow drag myself to school and/or work and spend the rest of the day running back and forth from the bathroom while also trying to be productive. I already felt like I was running marathons every single day. People would suggest I exercise more and I would think, “I’m already running myself ragged all day every day, the last thing I need to do is exert more energy I don’t have.”
I grew up playing sports, soccer and tennis mostly. I was very ill during these times and it was so hard on my body. I loved playing but I would be a zombie afterwards. I’ve had joint problems since elementary school and playing these very physical sports exacerbated those issues. After I stopped playing, I didn’t exercise much. My Crohn’s symptoms continued to get worse and it got harder and more painful to move my joints and my body. I felt like a young elderly woman. It was so depressing.
As I got older, I learned more about the body. Then I decided that despite the exhaustion, I needed to move my body a lot more than I was. I dabbled in different types of exercise but eventually found that I really needed something slow and low impact. I was a reluctant yoga convert but found that I could get some pain relief without exerting a lot of energy. While there are many kinds of yoga classes to choose from, yin yoga and restorative became something I turned to when I needed to move my body without moving around too much.
Gradually, my body became stronger and I was able to incorporate more strenuous activities into my routine. My mental health also improved as I began to exercise. When it hurts to move, thinking about walking and other physical activities can seem daunting. I often felt immobilized and saddened to see my life passing me by while I laid in bed or on the couch. Exercise has been a huge factor in giving me my life back.
I still have joint problems and I will for life. However, I protect them now by exercising regularly and taking a collagen supplement. My joints feel better now than they did during my childhood and adolescence. Exercise is vital for the health of our bodies. If your joints and muscles hurt and you feel constant fatigue, move your body! It doesn’t have to be yoga. Go for a walk, dance, take a kickboxing class, go swimming … just move.
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