Exercise Tips for Living with IBD

Quincy AdamUC Lifestyle

Living with an inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis) isn’t easy, especially if your symptoms are severe.

When they flare up, it can be difficult to think about an everyday activity such as exercising when your abdomen hurts and you need to quickly find a bathroom.

Exercise can help you stay fit, helping your overall physical and mental health. When you’re living with IBD, this is particularly important, since this disease and its symptoms can be stressful to manage. Some experts also say that exercise can help aid in digestion.

In an article on exercises for Crohn’s patients in Everyday Health1, Dr. Ryan Williams, a colorectal surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic, advises that it’s probably best to stick with low and moderate-impact types of exercise. That’s because high-intensity exercises can make your digestive system more active, triggering a bowel movement.

The following tips can help you get started on an exercise program while living with IBD:

Be prepared

Use the bathroom before you start to exercise. If you’re away from home, find out where the closest bathrooms are, and try to position yourself as close to them as possible. It can also help to take along a change of clothes, including underwear, and some wipes.

Don’t overdo it

If you’re having a flare-up, you might need to hold off on exercise. You may find it difficult to eat and get the nutrition your body needs, resulting in a lack of energy. If your flare up is severe, waiting until you feel better is probably the wise choice.

These exercises may help if you’ve living with IBD:

Weight training

According to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America, as many as 30 to 60 percent of people with IBD have bone density that’s lower than average. Anti-inflammatory medications, which are frequently prescribed to help treat IBD, are thought to be a major contributing factor, since they can cause bone loss. Weight training can help build bone density and muscle while helping to increase your overall strength.

Tip: When you’re first getting started, work with a trainer or other instructor. You risk injury if you’re using improper technique.


Walking is a good low-impact exercise for almost anyone, and you can reap the benefits in a relatively short amount of time. One study found an improved quality of life in participants with Crohn’s disease2 who walked for 30 minutes, three times a week, for three months. They also had no adverse effects.

Tip: To get more out of your walk, use a treadmill and increase its elevation.


Cycling doesn’t jar your body and lets you stay stationary, which can make it easier for people with gastrointestinal issues. It also provides a good cardiovascular workout.

Tip: You can control your environment better if you use a stationary cycle indoors. You’ll be able to avoid hilly, rough terrain and have access to the bathroom.

Yoga, tai chi, and Pilates

These exercises are low-impact and emphasize rhythmic breathing and core strength. They also help strengthen your pelvic floor and improve flexibility. You can benefit mentally as well as physically from yoga, tai chi, and Pilates. These exercises can help reduce stress, so they’re good for your overall well-being.

Tip: Look online for poses that may be able to help with digestion, but check with your doctor and an instructor before trying anything new on your own.

Getting the right amount of exercise is an essential part of staying healthy. While IBD may limit some of your activities, look for ways to exercise that are easy on your digestive system. Always consult with your doctor before starting an exercise regimen, and make sure to let him or her know about any effects that it has on your IBD.

1 Available at: http://www.everydayhealth.com/crohns-disease-pictures/ways-to-work-out-with-crohns.aspx. [Accessed April 21, 2015].
2 Ng V, Millard W, Lebrun C, Howard J. Low-intensity exercise improves quality of life in patients with Crohn’s disease. Clin J Sport Med. 2007;17(5):384-8.