Can regular exercise benefit Crohn’s symptoms?

As a person with Crohn’s disease, it is hard to maintain a positive outlook on life all the time. Exercise is usually thought of as a natural antidepressant and hence, the importance of regular physical movement becomes immense. The following article aims to highlight how exercise can help individuals with Crohn’s disease feel more upbeat, understand their bodies better, and help prepare for future obstacles in their life with the disease.

Exercise – an important part of managing Crohn’s

In the United States, almost 1.5 million people are afflicted with IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) – an umbrella term for illnesses that includes ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s.

The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada found the country to have one of the highest incidences of IBD in the world, with an annual cost of $1.8 billion to individuals, families and societies at large. Moreover, in 2008 there were around 200,000 cases of IBD reported in Canada, with over 9,000 incidences each year.

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Whether it is Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Inflammatory Bowel Disease, regular exercise is one of the most essential lifestyle practices to adopt. Despite the physical state you’re in or how tough your routine is, there is always something you can do to work out. It is always recommended to ask your personal physician what is best for you in terms of body movement. For instance, a post-surgical resection patient will have an altering level of physical activity compared to a patient who has IBD in remission.

A pilot study titled “The effects of exercise on patients with Crohn’s disease,” published by the University of Manitoba in 1998 focused on 12 inactive Crohn’s patients with low-level symptoms of the disease. They were monitored for 12 weeks under a ‘thrice-weekly walking’ programme to measure whether exercise had any significant effect on Crohn’s.

Finally, the baselines were compared at the end of the study week, and the results showed no flare-ups during the term. In fact, improvement was noticed, both physically and psychologically amongst the patients.

Another excellent study published in 2008 by the Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology entitled “Exercise and inflammatory bowel disease,” examined present research to note if exercise really did help counteract specific IBD symptoms. The researchers found out that certain level of body movement might actually help alleviate symptoms of IBD, along with overall stress management and psychological health improvement.

The maxim for work-out 

The maxim for a good workout session is simple: do it a lot, and do it regularly. When you’re in Crohn’s remission, start slowly (walking to the mail box outside the house, for example) is one of the basic ways to integrate movement and the natural release of beneficial brain chemicals like serotonin.

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A regular exercise routine can help improve overall health and may be particularly beneficial for people with IBD. Some research has also shown for the activity to relieve depression traits and boost the body’s immune system response.

The mere mention of exercise can seem terrifying if you’re struggling with incontinence because of Crohn’s. However, with suitable preparations, you can find ways to keep your body moving.

London’s physical health trainer, Maurice Williams, suggests avoiding a heavy meal in the several hours before working out, but make sure you are perfectly fuelled for the exercise and not depriving yourself of nutrients.

Find out where the nearest restrooms are so that you know for sure where you have to go, if need be. Additionally, keeping yourself hydrated is important, especially when you experience diarrhoea.

Mentioned below are some of the activities Crohn’s patients should definitely try. Just remember to talk to a doctor before starting any new routine.

Low intensity walking

The 2007 study taken from the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine looked at how low-intensity walking, thrice per week, for half an hour improved the quality of life for 32 Crohn’s disease patients. There were no significant flare-ups or exacerbations of symptoms reported during the 3-month study period.

Undoubtedly, IBD symptoms tend to limit the amount of intense exercises a person can do, but it is important to remember that even low-intensity movements like a 30-minute walk three times a week, as highlighted in the aforementioned study, can produce favourable results. If your condition makes mobility difficult, look for other creative ways to be active at home.

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Cycling to work or other places can get your heart rate up, building stamina and endurance at the same time. Crohn’s patients can bask in the satisfaction of saving gas money and feeling relaxed as they pedal 5-10 miles each morning or evening, however the weather permits.

Strength training According to Doctor Williams, loss of bone strength and density, called osteoporosis and osteopenia, are very common problems of Crohn’s disease. Poor nutrient absorption and unstable diet are usually to blame. Strength training exercises like basic push-ups and squats can help by strengthening your bone structure.

About half of the people, or more, that are on steroid medications for Crohn’s also experience some bone weakness. If your physician thinks strength training can aid in lowering the symptoms, work with an exercise specialist to help you set up a work-out programme to get you started. Along with improving bone density, strength training can also help build muscle strength and overall stamina. 

Dancing for Crohn’s 

According to substantial research, for individuals living with Crohn’s, low impact dancing can have a lot of benefits. Since dancing is an aerobic form of work out, it stimulates the production of brain chemicals that fight depression and stress symptoms. Stress reduction is important to improve the quality of life, especially for people with a chronic condition like Crohn’s. Maurice Williams suggests another important tip for people with the disease and that is making sure to stay hydrated at all times; either with water or a sports drink. 

Yoga and Tai chi 

Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese form of exercise mostly used for self-defence and to relieve stress. The movement along with yoga can be a good addition to the workout routine of a person with Crohn’s. Both forms of traditional exercises can control movements and breathing techniques, burning calories as well as improving muscles strength, balance and overall flexibility.


Just like Yoga movements, Pilates may also be beneficial for Crohn’s individuals. Being a low-impact fitness discipline, designed especially to strengthen core muscles, the activity stretches muscles along with building strength. It is equally effective in reducing stress in people.

Cherish your body

Even if you think a bad flare has physically exhausted you, or you feel drained following a major surgery, remember that continuing some forms of physical exercise will only make you independent, and is a sign that you are returning back to your personal self-care routine. No doubt, finding time for exercise is challenging, but it works as a good motivation to recall what it felt like to be sick and unable to move.

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Take advantage of those opportunities when you can still work out! Keep consulting your doctor about ways you can lead a more active, healthier lifestyle, as he or she is the best, and perhaps, the only source for health management.

This post was written by Alycia Gordan , a freelance writer. She loves to read and write article related to health and lifestyle, sometime on health-tech as well.  She is crazy about chocolates and you can find her on Twitter: @meetalycia

Written by Valentin Bosioc

Valentin Bosioc - wellness specialist, certified personal trainer, certified fitness instructor, celebrity trainer, Musclemania Champion, Ninja Warrior Semifinalist, world wide motivator!

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