When I was in the hospital (a story for another time) every GI doc, resident, intern and random stranger was telling me to keep moving. “The last thing you ever want to have happen,” they cautioned, “is to become constipated.” Well, duh. Even normal people want to avoid that, why would someone with UC want to add “straining” and “turning-face-even-more-purple-with-pain” to the list of unpleasantries? But the real dilemma is – what do you do when you are an active, healthy person, but suddenly exercise exacerbates your symptoms?
Well, walk. Walking is by far the healthiest thing you can do for yourself. It’s low-stress, low-impact (take it from someone who had foot surgery before the age of 30 because she’s a biomechanically inefficient runner – running wreaks havoc with your body). In fact, if there are any runners (or ex-runners) reading this, recall the joys of “Runner’s Trots”? I do, and that was way before my days of UC. I did a quick Google search for more stats on the matter, and Active.com’s article “How To Avoid Runner’s Trots” explains that “running jostles the intestines, reduces blood flow to the intestines as the body sends more blood to the exercising muscles, stimulates changes in intestinal hormones that speed up transit time, and alters absorption rate. Dehydration exacerbates the problem. Add a pre-existing bowel problem, and you are even more likely to be bothered by pit stops as your exercise ramps up.” Yep, stop running.
While I realize a 3-mile circuit around your neighborhood is challenging or next to impossible (unless you know pretty much everyone along the way and they don’t mind your unannounced bathroom pit-stops) don’t give up. Right now everything seems like a roadblock or a hurdle, but it’s all (fairly) easily overcome with some flexibility. Not a gym member? Well, now’s the time. Gyms have bathrooms! Doesn’t have to be a fancy place, try Planet Fitness for $10 a month. Halfway through your first mile and you’re struck with the emergency? Your worst outcome is losing the treadmill to another gym rat. Emerge and rally on fit friend!
Now personally, I am not a gym type. I hate crowds, I like my own music, I don’t want to share. So, if you’re a closet anti-social like me and you have some cash (and a chair you’ve always meant to throw out to create some space) invest in a treadmill for your home or apartment. I’ve been a treadmill runner/walker for the better part of 20 years. Stormy weather? Frigid cold New England weather? 9 o’clock at night on a Tuesday? 5:30am on a Friday? No pretty activewear? Not a problem, the machine is folded up and waiting, and it doesn’t care what you look like, what time it is, whether you need to start/stop a hundred times for a restroom break…you get the idea. Grab some earbuds or position yourself where you can see the TV and get all of your stress, anxiety and tension out of your system.
Last but not least? Break up your walk into 2-3 mini-walk sessions. Men’s Fitness featured an article “How Effective Are Quick Workouts?” and found that in a study published “in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, researchers found that three 10-minute sessions of brisk walking during the day were just as effective at lowering blood pressure as 30 minutes of brisk walking at one time. The quick workouts, in fact, were better than the longer one, at reducing blood pressure during the night and the next morning. The 10-minute sessions also lowered blood pressure more often to normal levels (less than 120/80 mmHg). Even if you exercise regularly at the gym, you can easily add three 10-minute brisk walks to your day. It may not seem like a real workout, but for your heart, it still counts.” And best part for you? You’ll never be too far from your home or office to turn right back around and power in for another date with UC.