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Managing colitis with exercise

by Freya 5 minutes read

Last updated: 04 Aug, 2022

Colitis is the swelling, also known as inflammation, of the large intestine.

According to the NHS, it is estimated that around 1 in 420 people in the UK have ulcerative colitis (UC), this is roughly 146,000 people.

For those that suffer from colitis or in fact any type of Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), exercise is encouraged for many reasons, mainly due to its several health benefits.

Sometimes it can be a struggle to workout, if this is the case then it is best to allow your body to rest as it is likely trying to tell you something.

Warning: It is important to limit exercise during a symptom flare, when your symptoms have faded and you feel better, you can get back into it again.

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Helps you recover quicker

Often, those with colitis will have an operation to treat the disease and frequent exercise after the surgery can encourage a quicker recovery.

Tip: Make sure you ask your doctor when it is ok for you to start working out again.

If your doctor gives you the ok, it is best to start slow with low-impact workouts, for example a brisk walk or swimming at your own pace, do not push yourself until you feel fully recovered.

Improves psychological health

Physical activity is known to have a positive impact on one's mental health, this is due to the release of happy hormones called endorphins , therefore, putting you in a better mood and giving you more energy.

Research has shown that aerobic exercises such as, swimming, cycling, jogging, walking and dancing can be helpful at reducing anxiety and depression. This is due to an increase in blood circulation to the brain which is influenced by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. This process is caused by the communication between the HPA axis with the brain, including the limbic system which powers motivation and mood.

It can be tough living with a chronic illness such as colitis, it is important to not let this define you, but in many cases it can take over and cause depression and anxiety for many, therefore exercise can be a useful tool to help with this.

Strengthens the immune system

Exercise has been proven to boost your immunity, but it is dependent on how often, how long and how intensely you workout.

According to research, moderate-intensity exercise is the most effective at strengthening your immune system. Working out for 60 minutes or less is essential when using exercise to benefit your immune system, doing this daily or almost daily will ensure that it continues to strengthen.

Helps prevent colon cancer

Although there is not quite enough evidence that shows regular exercise helps prevent colon cancer for people with IBD, it is known to prevent this type of cancer for others, therefore it is likely to be at least slightly effective at doing so for those with IBD.

A meta-analysis showed that those who exercised the most were 24% less likely to develop colon cancer compared to those that do little exercise.

Strengthens bones

People with UC have a higher chance of having low bone density, according to webmd, 30-60% of people with IBD suffer from low bone density.

This could be due to proteins called cytokines which respond to inflammation, changing how your body breaks down older bones to create new bones.

Or it could be due to the corticosteroids which many of those with UC will take to help with the disease, this steroid can increase your chances of getting osteoporosis.

Reduces stress

Living with ulcerative colitis can be stressful and have an effect on your quality of life. Implementing an exercise regimen can be helpful to reduce the stress you may be feeling.

Life brings a range of stresses to one's life and this stress can cause UC symptoms to get worse, thus bringing on more stress for those suffering.

Exercise produces endorphins, which act as natural painkillers, and also improves the ability to sleep, which in return reduces stress.

Crohns and colitis Campaigning

Via Crohn's and Colitis UK

Quick tips for exercising with colitis:

  • Stop exercising if you become dizzy or fatigued

  • Use yoga to help with digestion and constipation

  • Hydrate properly

  • Choose light or moderate exercise to ensure you do not put too much stress on your digestive system

  • Limit exercise during flare-ups

  • Pick something you enjoy!

Disclaimer: We provide this information for educational purposes only. No content on this site should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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