Everybody needs to exercise to stay healthy. If you have ulcerative colitis, you have even more reasons to be physically active.
Exercise helps prevent osteoporosis, an increased risk when you have UC. It may also help prevent colon cancer, another UC-related problem. And it relieves stress and lifts your mood, which may help prevent ulcerative colitis flare-ups.
Exercise also helps keep the muscles that support your joints strong and flexible. And if you need surgery, it will help you heal faster.
Here are six potential benefits of exercise for ulcerative colitis and the best type of exercises for each, as well as tips for staying active safely with UC.
Strengthen Your Bones
People who have IBD are at higher risk of osteoporosis. In fact, the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) reports that 30% to 60% of people with inflammatory bowel disease (including ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease) have low bone density, meaning their bones aren't as strong as they should be.
This may be due to the IBD itself. Proteins called cytokines are involved in the body's inflammatory response, and they may interfere with how your body breaks down old bone and creates new bone. Corticosteroid medications, used to treat ulcerative colitis, also increase the risk of developing osteoporosis.
The good news: Because bone, like muscle, is living tissue that gets stronger with exercise, physical activity can help fight the problem of thinning bones.
Exercise: Weight-bearing exercise -- the kind that forces your body to work against gravity -- strengthens bones. Walking, climbing stairs, dancing, and weight training are all weight-bearing exercises.
Keep Your Muscles and Joints Healthy
As many as 25% of people with inflammatory bowel disease develop joint inflammation. Inflammation, as well as taking corticosteroids and not getting enough nutrients, can lead to weaker muscles, which puts more strain on joints.
Exercise can help both problems. Regular physical activity makes muscles stronger and helps joints move more easily.
Exercise: Weight training and aerobic exercise such as fast walking are good strengtheners for joints and muscles. If pain makes those too difficult, try low-impact exercises such as swimming or cycling. Stretching should also be a regular part of your exercise routine to help keep your muscles and joints flexible.
Recover From Surgery Faster
If you need to have surgery for ulcerative colitis, regular exercise may help your recovery. It strengthens your muscles, keeps your blood circulating to prevent blood clots, and helps keep your lungs clear.
After surgery, ask your doctor when you can begin exercising again. If you are fit and exercised regularly before your surgery, you can probably start as soon as you feel up to it. For the first month, you may want to work out more slowly, for 30 to 45 minutes two days a week or as your doctor tells you to.
Exercise: Start with walking, working out to an exercise video, or walking up and down stairs. You’ll need to avoid some exercises such as sit-ups, strenuous activity, or lifting anything heavier than 15 pounds for six weeks after abdominal surgery.