Exercising Safely with Ulcerative Colitis

Run, Jump and Dive to the bathroom: Exercising with Ulcerative Colitis

Running to the porcelain bowl might be your reality if you are a sufferer of Ulcerative Colitis (UC). The good news is it shouldn’t be the only exercise you do towards your future health. Exercise is the worlds most underutilized drug and it has been proven to aid in managing many of the complex symptoms both long and short term that UC triggers.


Ulcerative Colitis – A Summary

Ulcerative Colitis is an autoimmune disease and is classified under the category irritable bowel disease. It currently affects approximately 74,955 Australians and costs society a loss in productivity in excess of $380 million per annum. Ulcerative Colitis is ruthless in nature and is characterized by unpredictable relapsing and remitting periods with painful and uncomfortable symptoms, which can lead to whole body fatigue.

The last thing you would want to do would be to exercise…..…right?  WRONG!

So why is exercise recommended and what does the evidence say?

Exercise has been established to be the most accessible, cost effective and beneficial therapy in managing UC long term. Research suggests that when in remission a combination of aerobic and resistance based exercise tailored to a low- moderate intensity is beneficial. It is important to note that no one UC case is the same, so individualized programming is required from an Exercise Professional.

Regular exercise will not change the damage to the colon or rectum but it does help to manage the signs and symptoms of the disease, which are often the most debilitating part. These are the things that impact your quality of life and hence have the greatest capacity for improvement.


Some of the improvements you can expect from regular exercise include:

  • Improved mood and stress relief: having this condition would make the best of us stressed and exercise is a known de-stressor. Yoga or some light exercise like walking in the park can help to clear your mind.
  • Improved bone health: many of the medications used in the treatment of UC can negatively impact your bone health and can cause osteopenia or osteoporosis long term. Resistance exercise aids in strengthening muscles and building bone long term through healthy bone remodeling and therefore decreases the bone loss risk.
  • Increased Strength: Throughout daily life living with UC you will be required to perform activities that demand physical strength. Resistance training is good for muscle balance, increasing bone density and improving body composition. It is quite common that most UC sufferers will be underweight so increasing lean body mass will increase weight and BMI.
  • Better Immune Response: most people with UC are on immunosuppressive therapy and hence immune system response is poor. Exercising at a low to moderate intensity has been shown to improve immune function.
  • Colon Cancer prevention: your risk of colon and rectal cancer is greater than the general population. Regular exercise has been proven to lower the risk of developing such cancers when compared to the non-exerciser.
  • Increased Energy: UC depletes your energy especially if you are in a relapse. You may want to rest all day but try and be a little active because when you do your energy will increase and you will feel better. If you are feeling great it is important however not to overdo it as this can create extra inflammation. Seek professional advice as to how much is enough for you.


What if I am relapsing?

When you are in a relapse it is not recommended to undertake any new or moderate intensity-based exercise. Stick to things that make you feel better and do not cause you to exert yourself. If you are hospitalized during this period some light walking and light chair or bed based exercises may be enough.

What if I have a surgical resection: stoma, ostomy or ileo-anal pouch (J pouch)?

These conditions require control of intra-thoracic and abdominal pressures when exercising and specifically when lifting weights as well as specific core strength and stabilizing exercises.  This does not mean sit ups or planks. You are still able to perform a large array of exercises but you just need to be aware of the precautions and alterations. Seek advice from an exercise professional.

To get you started here’s some expert tips:

  1. Get your doctors consent to beginning an exercise program
  2. Get the right guidance from an Exercise Professional: Accredited Exercise Physiologist
  3. Start slowly and simply
  4. Add gentle walking or relaxation exercise
  5. Add resistance based exercise
  6. Make it something you love
  7. Make it a routine
  8. Go easy during a flare up
  9. Don’t over do it: rest when needed

If you don’t know where to start contact your local Accredited Exercise Physiologist.