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Exercise & Chronic Illness

NOTE: This blog post contains gruesome details of Ulcerative Colitis. If you do not suffer from an IBD or if you have a weak constitution, I would advise you to stop reading now.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor or a medical professional of any kind. If you are considering any physical activity with a chronic condition or illness, please speak with your doctor about some routines that are safe and appropriate for your situation!!!

Everyone understands the importance of physical fitness. For those with Chronic Illnesses, however, exercise can be more than just a little daunting. Sometimes just getting out of bed can be taxing.

Exercise has become a dirty word for those battling Inflammatory Bowel Disease. There are some studies out there that have proven exercise is good for chronic illness, however, not all people are created equally and what works for one may not work for another. Even the medicinal and dietary treatments vary from one person to another.

"Never Give Up, Never Surrender!"
Although exercise is difficult for those with Crohn's Disease or Ulcerative Colitis, I would never suggest that we give up trying. 

There are many reasons people with IBD throw the towel in on exercise and physical fitness after being diagnosed--even the accomplished athlete! Fear, anxiety, pain, muscle and joint weakness, accidents, anemia, fatigue and the general "unwell" and "icky" feeling. All these things can contribute to a lack of desire when it comes to workouts.

In 2010, I was shoe-in for state champion in Shotokan Karate. My sensei bragged on me in class. My form was excellent. I practiced every day... even during my lunch breaks! My kicks were powerful and dynamic. I was passionate and unstoppable. I had a plan to achieve my black belt in 6 months' time. And then UC hit me hard and fast. I guess it's true! Pride comes before a fall... and I fell hard.

I was having 20+ BM's every day. Most of those produced nothing but pools of dark blood in the bottom of the toilet. I was anemic, dehydrated and nearly passed out in class a couple of times. Anxiety, frustration, fear. And then I was diagnosed. I was excited! I was given medicine that I was assured would help me. I thought, GREAT! I'll just take these pills and be back to my routine in no time!

Dreaming the "Impossible Dream"
Unfortunately, that didn't happen. Not only was the disease taking over my body, but so was Prednisone. My body retained so much fluid that my joints were weak and achy. Prednisone also zapped me of my muscle tone and strength. I was crushed, heartbroken and disappointed. 

As a result of missing so many days at work (even though I had those sick days built up) my boss began to resent it and get irritated with me. After one particularly infuriating day when I overheard him talking about me behind my back, I quit my job and moved three hours away from my dojo to be closer to my boyfriend. There goes my dream of being a black belt!

Since then, my health has been a roller coaster of really awesome days and pure hell. Add to that the difficulty of finding a suitable dojo replacement (I've tried four or five different places!), and it's enough to make a person give up their dreams.

How Can Exercise Really Help?
In the minimal research I've done on exercise, I have learned that there can be many benefits to exercise. Here are some that I've found to be true in my case:

And here are a few links I found helpful if you are interested in exercising despite your disease.

Yoga Poses to Improve Digestion

Exercises You Can Do Lying Down

Exercise & Chronic Diseases (Mayo Clinic)

How Exercise Can Help Ulcerative Colitis (WebMD)

Using Exercise to Ease UC Symptoms

Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining
Last April (2014) I had my colon removed. It's been quite a struggle in my journey to recovery, but I'm determined to get back into an exercise routine. If not karate, something else. I have been researching and talking with others about how to ease back into it. My sister-in-law, who is a General Physician, told me that I needed to start with some strength training before any cardio.

So, I've made a plan and I'll let you know how it goes. One day, somehow or another, that black belt will be mine!!!

No, chronic illness and exercise don't always go hand in hand, but there are many athletes out there who push through the pain despite their illnesses. They are living proof that it can be done and given the right motivation and just enough passion, anyone can overcome their obstacles. A few of those athletes include:

David Garrard (Crohn's Disease)
Sarah Lang (Ulcerative Colitis)
Carrie Johnson (Crohn's Disease)
Darren Fletcher (Ulcerative Colitis)
George "The Animal" Steele (Crohn's Disease)

Well, there you have it. I hope that this post gave you some inspiration and encouragement. I know that reading about these phenomenal athletes who reached and fought for their dreams despite their struggles really helped me. Take care and never stop fighting!


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