Crohn's disease and exercise

If you have Crohn's disease (CD), you may wonder if it's safe to exercise strenuously, or if physical exercise might in fact make your inflammatory symptoms worse.

It's advisable to consult with your doctor about your particular situation before starting a new exercise regime. However, physicians generally agree that physical activity isn't harmful for people with CD.

Like any other person, you'll benefit from the boost to general health, wellbeing and quality of life that comes with being fit and active. In addition, there are several good reasons for someone with CD to take up regular exercise:

• Many people with CD feel that stress and anxiety make their symptoms worse. Regular exercise is very effective at controlling stress.

• Exercise can also alleviate the depression suffered by many people with CD.

• Gentler relaxation exercises such as yoga, tai chi and meditation can also be very helpful for stress and mental wellbeing.

• There's some evidence that regular, low-intensity exercise may actually protect the gastrointestinal tract. Physical activity may even reduce the risk of developing CD, for reasons that aren't yet clear. Studies into this are ongoing.

• People with CD are at risk of osteoporosis (brittle bones) and muscle weakness – especially if they're taking glucocorticoid medication, which causes muscle atrophy and bone loss. Regular exercise will help to alleviate this, and will strengthen muscles and bones.

Things to be cautious about:

• Remember to drink plenty of water before and during exercise – people with CD are particularly prone to dehydration.

• Try to avoid great changes in body temperature while you're exercising.

• Extremely strenuous exercise may provoke temporary gastrointestinal symptoms such as heartburn or diarrhoea.

• Repeated gastrointestinal bleeding during exercise is cause for concern, as it may lead to anaemia.

- Source: “Crohn’s Disease”, University of Maryland Medical Center; Peters, HPF and De Vries, WR, “Potential benefits and hazards of physical activity and exercise on the gastrointestinal tract”, Gut 2001;48. 
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