I write this piece from a dual perspective, both a personal and a professional point of view, Firstly as a PT and health professional, and secondly as an IBD sufferer myself, (Pancolitis, diagnosed 2012).
I read and study a lot about IBD, with an emphasis on exercise and movement. Whilst there initially appears to be a lot of information surrounding the subject, unfortunately, there is a lot of erroneous information out there, “ this exercise can cure IBD” – “this hack will cure your IBD in weeks”, “take this one supplement and you’ll be IBD free forever” please don’t get me wrong, if you’ve found something that works for you and makes you feel better, then that’s fantastic! roll with it! But what I’m saying is, don’t be fooled by the plethora of unsubstantiated claims that are so easy to find floating free around the net. (Although I do completely understand why they so easily draw us in… when you’ve been in pain for weeks/months/years, anything’s worth a shot right??)
I’m afraid to say though, these too good to be true “cure-alls” tend to be just that… too good to be true. I implore you not to rest your hopes on these claims.
All hope is not lost though, we ourselves are in control of a lot more than we often give ourselves credit for. Whilst we may not always be in control of what our body does to us, we are in control of what we do to it. And this is where we lead onto physical movement and exercise as an aid to relieving the symptoms of IBD.
Before I go any further, I’d like to state that this post is based purely on my personal opinions and personal experiences.
I urge you not to take anything here as an authority. I recommend you take the advice of your personal physicians and GI teams before undertaking any strenuous exercise or otherwise.
We all know the benefits of physical exercise, strengthens the muscles, increases bone density, lifts our mood by endorphin release, boosting of the immune system, aids digestion, etc. However, when you’ve been bedridden for what feels like forever, every part of your body aches, you feel such intense fatigue that you don’t even remember what it feels like to have enough energy to walk around the house, spending what little energy you do have on exercise can be very low on the list of priorities!
Below are a few things I’ve tried to do that have helped me in my own journey:
First and foremost, learn to accept your situation. Be brutally honest with yourself. This can be a very difficult place to get to, (I know it certainly was for me), but when you accept your situation as it presents itself, you can move forward, otherwise you’ll spend so much mental energy fighting against yourself.
“Acceptance is the harshest lesson life teaches, and one of the most important to learn”.
– Rose Tremain –
Create a support network
YOU ARE NOT ALONE. IBD can feel very isolating. Everyone around you seems to be living their lives around you without a clue how ill you feel – no one seems to understand just how tired and fatigued you are all the time – everyone seems to understand exactly how you feel because they “had a stomach ache once” and the old classic – “ but you don’t look ill” – seem familiar?. Trust in the fact that there are millions of us out there that really do understand.
Creating a support network around you of like minded people and people going through similar experiences as yourself can be incredibly uplifting and somewhere you can vent your own thoughts and feel safe in the knowledge your audience “gets it”. There are an ever-growing number of online groups, forums, websites, (perfect for the current situation of lockdown) that cater for us IBD sufferers, seek them out. You might just make some friends for life.
“If you’re going through a dark period, remember that you’re not alone”.
– Demi Lovato –
Set tiny goals and congratulate yourself on reaching them
When you feel like you might actually have enough energy to do some form of exercise, don’t delay! Do it! It doesn’t matter what it is, Just start. Set a goal- a single squat / a walk to the end of the garden, anything. Its progress. Be happy that you’re out of bed and able to do anything at all. Build on this little by little, day by day, and try not to be disheartened if at times it feels like you’re going backwards, this will happen. Fitness isn’t a linear progression for any of us, there will be ups and downs along the way, accept it, and use it to fuel a positive mindset.
Make use of YouTube
Whilst there initially appears to be a lack of easily accessible experiential advice to read on the net, YouTube makes up for in abundance, with many IBD sufferers describing their own experiences and their own ways of exercising and training with IBD. Whilst being aware that what works for others may not be exactly what works for you, I’ve found this to be a brilliant resource for gathering thoughts and ideas from others going through similar things to myself. Simply start off by searching ”exercising with IBD”.
Do whatever works for you and what makes you feel good!
As I mentioned above, be aware that what works for others might not work for yourself, that’s fine, we are all unique beings and our exercise and training should be just as unique. Whether it be traditional weight training, yoga, crossfit, running, cycling, ballet, or anything else. do whatever makes you feel good. There is no bad style of training. Anything that lifts your mood and gets your body working must be good, right?
Do something you enjoy! You’re so much more likely to stick to something that makes you feel good, and consistency is key. If you can’t think of anything that makes you want to want to get up and go, don’t be afraid to try something new! If you don’t engage with it, that’s fine! move on and keep searching! (this is also where youtube can be great!).
Keep track of your exercise
It can be all too easy to get a few months down the line and feel like “I’ve got nowhere”. This can feel really demotivating. Keep a track of your exercise and avoid this pitfall. You might be pleasantly surprised to see just how far you’ve actually come. There’s no right or wrong way of tracking, there are lots of free and paid for exercise tracking apps on the web, specifically designed exercise tracking books, or even just a basic notebook will do. Again, whatever works for you.
Get in touch and don’t give up!
If you’ve read this and feel like you might want a little more detailed advice on exercise or even just a chat about your experiences, don’t be shy, drop me a message. Sometimes just chatting with someone in a similar situation can help so much. I know it certainly helps me, even 7 years down the line!
Whatever you do, don’t give up! No matter how hard it can feel at times, you’ve got this. Remember you’re not alone, we’re all in this together.