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Exercising with An Ostomy

Let’s talk about ostomies and exercise. Can you exercise with an ostomy? Absolutely.

While I need to take some precautions with my ostomy and stay mindful of my abdomen, it hasn’t stopped me from doing any exercise I want. Feeling healthy again, especially after an extended illness, is amazing!

My goal is to show you how to start, or reintroduce, exercising after your surgery.

How to start exercising with an ostomy

One to two weeks after surgery

Begin with getting out of bed. Does getting out of bed count as exercise? Yes! If you’re just recovering from surgery it’s really important to get mobile. 

The first few times you get out of bed, here’s a list of things to expect:

1. The nurse should help you sit up first, then get out of bed

Remember that your abdominal muscles are weakened and you’ve had pain medications. Those things can make you feel nauseated or dizzy.

2. You may experience a lot of discomfort or pain 

That’s a normal, but unfortunate, result of surgery. Go slowly and take deep breaths.

3. Ask for help getting out of bed.

You could risk a fall if you don’t have help – and a fall could prolong your hospital stay.

4. Ensure you’re wearing non-slip socks or shoes

Non-slip footwear will help prevent a fall.

5. Mobility is important

Mobility promotes healing. It used to be common practice for patients to rest and stay in bed while they were recovering.

Today, many patients are encouraged to get out of bed and move around post-operatively as early as possible.

Getting up to sit in a chair, walking to the bathroom, or around the unit are all different ways of mobilizing after surgery. 

Two to six weeks after surgery

The next steps to rebuilding your strength and endurance after surgery are, well, steps. Walking is a free, easy way to exercise that you can easily scale up as you start to feel better.

Three tips for a successful walk (and other away-from-home exercises)

1. Always bring water with you

Even if it’s a short walk. Ostomates can dehydrate very quickly, especially high output ostomies like urostomies and ileostomies.

Hydration backpacks are easy to wear and keep your hands free for things like walking the dog. Some are also big enough to hold a supply change.

2. Bring supplies for an emergency change.

Until you’re confident in your pouching system, bring an emergency change. If you’re going far from home, an extra ostomy supply change is essential.

3. Wear supportive garments

Ostomy systems sit on the outside of the body and can put weight on and pull abdominal muscles as they begin to fill up. You’ll feel more comfortable with something to hold the bag against your body.

There are a variety of support options, from ostomy underwear and wraps, which have a pocket that ostomy pouch sits in, to ostomy belts. 

Six weeks post-surgery and beyond

If you’ve been walking regularly and aren’t experiencing any pain, you can start strengthening your core muscles. Core strength is what allows you to stand and sit upright while you do everyday tasks.

Core strength comes from the muscles in your torso between your neck and the top of your legs. While abdominal exercises are an important part of core strength, they aren't the only exercises you should do.

How can I do core exercises?

1. Sit down on a chair and stand up. Return to the sitting position and repeat.

2. From standing position, bend over and try to touch your toes. Repeat.

3. On the floor, get on your hands and knees. Imitate a cat by arching your back. Then imitate a cow by reversing and letting your abdomen stretch toward the floor.

Other forms of exercise

Strength Training

Strength training is an important part of something called functional fitness or functional training. Functional fitness lets you:

  • Do everyday activities, such as carrying groceries, sweeping floors, and retrieving items stored overhead
  • Have the strength and energy to enjoy your favorite hobbies
  • Regulate hormones and sleep cycles
  • Maintain muscle mass and bone density as we age.

Like core strength, strength training doesn’t require special equipment or a gym membership. If you’re gym-shy or immunocompromised and need to isolate, you can create your own fitness space at home. 

Intense Cardio

Today, I regularly participate in high-intensity cardiovascular exercises, including biking, hiking, and aerobics. But it took me over a year to become comfortable with getting my heart rate up.

Cardiovascular exercise has great benefits. It strengthens your heart, making it pump blood more efficiently. It decreases your chances of heart disease, reduces stress, and releases endorphins in your brain.

My recommendations for beginning cardio:

1. Always have water with you 

This becomes even more important when your adventures take you far from home. I also always carry my ID and some cash or credit card in case I need to purchase water. In Covid-19 times, many water fountains have been blocked off.

2. Support and protect your ostomy 

Trust me, it’s really uncomfortable to run without support and your ostomy bag starts to fill up. 

3. Choose your sport or activity wisely

I tend toward non-contact activities because they’re less likely to impact my stoma. Contact sports have a higher chance of causing injury to the stoma. Accidents happen but you can save yourself a lot of grief by wearing an ostomy wrap. Water sports, like swimming, can also be a great option — just be sure to do a test run in the bath with your pouch to make sure there are no leaks.

4. Do a test run

For example, before you go swimming, you can test how your ostomy barrier and bag hold up in water by taking a bath. Jump up and down or jog in place before you head out for a run.

5. Carry a change of supplies

If I’m headed somewhere new for the first time, I always bring a change.

6. Empty your pouch before you head out

Ostomies can be unpredictable. Intense activity stimulates the gastrointestinal system, encouraging it to move waste out of the body. I’ve paused in the middle of many workouts to empty my suddenly-full pouch.

Final thoughts on exercise

After I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, exercising became a challenge. As I became weaker and sicker over a decade, I abandoned exercise altogether. Just walking up the stairs in my house left me breathless and dizzy.

My ostomy has given me my health back and my biggest motivation to stay fit comes from protecting my ostomy. My quality of life improved drastically after my surgery and I want to enjoy it for a long time to come.

When you're considering starting to exercise again, start small! If you have any questions or need help figuring out the best exercises for you, give us a call at 415-475-8444.

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