Crohn’s-Friendly Exercises: Should You Run?

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Friendly Exercises

Ask 10 patients with Crohn's disease whether running is good exercise for them, and you'll get at least 12 answers. That's because several will always correctly answer, “It depends.”
Exercise for individuals with this condition has a number of positive benefits, according to Crohn'sOnline. Progressive relaxation exercises, yoga, meditation and deep breathing are effective ways to manage the unavoidable stress that comes with the illness. Exercising on a regular basis can also aid in normal bowel function for individuals with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). However, you should always consult with your physician before starting any exercise regimen.

Light exercise might be a good thing for patients, according to the Crohn's amp; Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA). The question seems to be what constitutes “light” activity. CCFA actually sponsors Crohn's walks and runs around the United States.

The 2007 CCFA posting on exercise summarizes results from a Canadian study of patients with mild disease who took walks a few times each week to help boost their well being as well as their overall quality of life. One of the reasons the researchers began the study was controversy over the years on whether exercise could aggravate the inflammation.

The assumed result of running was increased diarrhea, abdominal pain, rectal bleeding and incidence of flares. However, no study had ever proven or disproven this assumption.

Researchers, headed by Victor Ng at the University of Western Ontario, studied only 32 adult Crohn's patients. Every one of them was actually in a clinical definition of remission or suffered only mild symptoms of IBD.

For a period of 3 months, half the research subjects walked 30 minutes on 3 days a week. The remainder lived as they usually did. Both at the inception and at the close of the research, all 32 filled out questionnaires regarding their symptoms, overall well being, and quality of life.

The researchers' findings – that the exercise group reported improved symptoms and rated their quality of life higher than the second group – were reported in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, according to CCFA. The study's co-author, Dr. Wanda Millard, suggested that exercise benefits almost everyone, adding that patients with chronic disease are no exception. She defined “light” exercise as activity such as moderate walking, which she said is unlikely to have a significant impact on intestinal function.

Millard added an important caveat. She said that the project she completed as well as other research of the impact of exercise on Crohn's disease have studied only patients who are in remission or who suffer from only mild symptoms. She concluded that if a patient is experiencing moderate or severe symptoms, it's wise to wait until the condition is better under control before undertaking an exercise program.

Why would patients themselves say, “It depends”? Many with whom I have worked over 25 years as volunteer have remarked on the quirks of their disease. It all boils down to this: what works one time might not work the next, whether it's food or level of activity.

As a patient with five intestinal surgeries behind her, I would not consider running. I apparently have at least a mild amount of disease activity 24/7. More importantly, I have a ton of adhesions that jab and poke at me when I try to sleep and that result in a considerable amount of abdominal tenderness the rest of the time. Running, which would jar them even further and possibly speed an already overactive shortened small bowel, is out of the question.

Have any of my physicians ever told me not to run? No. They assume I have enough sense to figure it out, based on my medical history. For me, 10- to 15-minute walks are a far more helpful way to keep moving. And at times, when I start to feel the familiar “stitch” in my side, where what's left has been surgically linked, I have to stop and walk slowly home.

You (and your insurance company, if you have one) have hired your doctor for advice. During the months when the general population is moving outside the house more often, it's not trivial to make an appointment with your physician to discuss exactly what's safe for you. Then make your own decision on whether or not to run and take responsibility for the results.

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