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Exercising When You Have a GI Disorder

Exercise tips for people with Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome, or other gastrointestinal disorders.

Exercise Tips continued...

2. Go Uphill. People with incontinence should walk, not run, on treadmills, and increase the track's elevation, Bryant tells WebMD.

3. Map Out the Restrooms. Whether you're in the gym or walking the park, scout out the bathrooms before beginning your workouts. GI conditions vary, but the one commonality is that everyone with leakage "knows where all the bathrooms are," says Sander Binderow, MD, a colorectal surgeon at Saint Joseph's Hospital in Atlanta.

4. Plan Potty Breaks. Use common sense, says Bryant, by going to the bathroom before you start exercising.

5. Choose Your Sports Wisely. Golf, Bryant says, is a lot safer than basketball or jogging.

6. Listen to Your Body. "I'm single and dating and feel fortunate to be in remission so that it doesn't interfere with my life," says Horgan, who is working on her master's degree in social work. But when she feels a flare coming on, she doesn't push herself physically.

7. Keep Your Doctor in the Loop. Don't be shy about talking to your doctors about what happens when you exercise. Additionally, if you are fatigued, unable to eat, or having persistent diarrhea or bleeding, see your doctor, says Ernesto R. Drelichman, MD, director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

When Medications Make You Feel Sick

Both ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease often can be controlled with medication, though surgery is still performed when drugs don't work, Drelichman tells WebMD.

In many cases, he says, medications can lessen symptoms of diarrhea, abdominal cramping, and bloating. Some medications, however, can cause problems themselves, such as weight gain, lack of energy, bone weakening, and dehydration "to the point where you feel like you have a constant hangover," Drelichman says.

Unfortunately, that means exercise can be out of the question. If patients don't feel like exercising because of side effects from their medication, they should take it easy and lay off the physical activity, say all the GI doctors interviewed.

The best time for exercise? Between flare-ups, when people have more energy and feel well enough to exercise.

That's been Neal Patel's strategy. The drugs the 25-year-old Decatur, Ga., resident takes to keep his ulcerative colitis under control cause lethargy and weight gain. He gained 30 pounds while taking medicine.

In an effort to shed the extra weight, he went to the gym whenever he felt up to it and recently lost 15 pounds. "I lift weights, jog on the treadmill, and things are good," says Patel, who is between flares.

Now a medical student, Patel says his disease caused him to change his specialty from obstetrics to gastroenterology.

"I know how hard it is for young people to cope," he says, "and I want to help them."

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Reviewed on September 28, 2011

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