Staying active with Crohn's disease

It is possible to exercise and enjoy the health benefits of being physically active when you have Crohn's disease.

Having Crohn's disease doesn't mean you can't be physically active. When done properly, exercise won't worsen symptoms. In fact, regular exercise may:

  • Decrease the fatigue that typically comes with Crohn's disease and help you feel more energized.
  • Help you cope with emotions that can negatively impact your quality of life, such as anxiety and depression.

Staying active is important to your short- and long-term health. Doing just one exercise session that raises your heart rate has been shown to lower blood pressure, improve sleep and lower anxiety on the day you do it. Regular exercise can increase overall strength, improve bone health, boost the immune system and may help minimize digestive symptoms.

Choosing exercises that are best for you

Talk with your health care team before engaging in any physical activity to determine which exercises are best for you. There are times when exercise should be limited. This is especially true if you are scheduled for — or recently had — an endoscopic procedure or surgery for Crohn's. If your health care team has indicated it's safe for you to exercise, you might try:

  • Resistance training. Resistance training can help strengthen your muscles and bones, which can be weakened by Crohn's disease. Use elastic bands or free weights and focus on the major muscle groups in your legs and torso. Be sure to take breaks between sets of exercises.
  • Aerobic exercise. Examples of aerobic exercise include walking, running, swimming and cycling. Depending on your situation, certain activities may be too strenuous and could trigger Crohn's disease symptoms. If so, change or limit these activities to meet your needs.

Studies indicate that exercising at moderate to vigorous intensity helps boost immunity and reduce chronic low-grade inflammation. During moderate activity, you are breathing hard and can hold a conversation, but you can't sing. Vigorous means you can't get more than a couple of words out without a breath. Keep in mind that if you already exercise, you shouldn't exercise more in efforts to increase immunity. Repeated and strenuous physical activity can suppress immune function.

You don't need to suffer to reap the benefits of exercise. You may want to explore yoga or tai chi. Both are low-impact mind-body exercises that aim to improve physical and mental health.

Managing flares

If you have a flare-up, limit your activities until your symptoms are under control and you've regained your strength and energy. Work with your care team to modify your activities so that you're still being active in some way. For instance, if your symptoms make activity out of the house difficult, try to find ways to be active at home by doing light chores or other household tasks.

Frequent bowel movements and medicines that might cause dehydration are of particular concern when you have Crohn's disease. It's important that you hydrate properly or avoid extreme heat when exercising.

Whatever exercise you choose, make it something you enjoy. Both your physical and mental health can benefit.

March 07, 2024 See more In-depth