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Fitness & Sport

What you need to know about Fitness & Sport with a Stoma

Adapting to life with an ostomy can be a challenging time, and the thought of exercise may well be the last thing on your mind as you recover from surgery. But getting fit and being active could actually be the key to a faster recovery and a better quality of life in the long run. With time, there is every chance that you can expect to return to a good level of fitness and strength. If you would like more information about fitness & exercise or any other Ostomy Lifestyle subject, call our Helpline on 0800 731 4264 you can also e-mail advice@ostomylifestyle.org. The following information can be downloaded as a pdf file

Adapting to life with an ostomy can be a challenging time, and the thought of exercise may well be the last thing on your mind as you recover from surgery.

But getting fit and being active could actually be the key to a faster recovery and a better quality of life in the long run. With time, there is every chance that you can expect to return to a good level of fitness and strength.

Provided you have agreement from your doctor, there is no medical reason why you can’t participate in exercise, or even competitive sport, when you have an ostomy. Our research found people with stomas enjoying activities ranging from walking to rock climbing and yoga to martial arts, so there is something out there for everyone!

The physical benefits of exercise are important for everyone, but for someone with an ostomy, maintaining a healthy weight and keeping your muscles strong are important for helping prevent parastomal hernias from developing. One of the greatest benefits of exercise, is the psychological and ‘feel good’ aspect. Being able to participate in sport or fitness is incredibly empowering and will boost your confidence, ability to cope with your stoma and your quality of life.

Even if you were fit before your illness and surgery, it is important to start slowly and build up gradually. You have been through a major operation and your body will take time to recover, so don’t rush and don’t expect too much of yourself initially. If you’re new to exercise altogether, it can be harder to get motivated, so build up slowly and get advice from a fitness trainer or physiotherapist if you have any queries.

It is possible your confidence may have taken a knock, and you might have genuine worries about your appliance leaking, being embarrassed and feel anxious about the practicalities of physical activity, so here are some ideas and tips to get you started!

Walking

Walking is the ideal choice for everyone and can be as gentle or brisk as you wish. After your surgery walking will get your system moving and help recovery. Go easy to begin with and build up slowly, perhaps aiming to go a little further each day. When you’re fully recovered however, walking longer distances and more briskly is a great way to stay fit. Why not try joining a rambling group or a Nordic walking class?

Running and Jogging

If you were a runner prior to surgery, there’s no reason why you can’t continue to run after your operation, you will just need to build back up slowly. If you are new to running, you can follow a ‘beginners’ programme just like anyone else. Be aware however that you will need to work hard on your core stability – more so than someone who hasn’t gone through abdominal surgery - to stay injury free so ask a personal trainer or physiotherapist for advice.

Yoga and Pilates

Your posture, strength and flexibility will have all been affected during surgery, periods of bed rest and recovery, so a pilates or yoga class is ideal. It can also be a great way to relax your mind and re-build confidence in your body. You may need to adapt positions where you lie on your stomach, so ask your instructor for advice, and always listen to your body.

Swimming

Swimming is a fantastic activity for people with an ostomy as it is great for cardiovascular fitness and toning. It is natural to have concerns about swimming and some people worry about their appliance leaking and feel self conscious in a swimsuit. The adhesive on stoma bags remains effective in water, why not test it in the bath first?! Flange extenders can increase security and there is a wide range of swimwear available that provide support and discretion.

Gym work and fitness classes

Once you are fully recovered from surgery, you can start to use light weights in the gym and take part in fitness classes such as Zumba and aerobics. Start very gently, and if you experience any discomfort or pain in your incisions or around the stoma then stop immediately. If at all possible, get a trainer or physiotherapist to put a programme together for you and show you how to execute the exercises properly.

Contact sports

If you did contact sports like rugby or martial arts prior to surgery and wish to continue, there is no reason why you can’t, but just be cautious and try to avoid injuring your stoma. Damage to the stoma is unlikely, but it is possible, so it is advisable to wear a ‘stoma protector’ over your appliance whenever you practise or play. The same applies to sports like cricket where you might be in danger of being hit in the abdomen.

Managing Your Stoma

Some people find it helpful to time meals so that their stoma is not active during exercise as a filling bag can become uncomfortable and may be more prone to leakage. The best way to ascertain the right time to eat is through trial and error and knowing your own body.

Using flange extenders around your bag can increase security and give you extra confidence, especially if perspiration is a problem. You might like to take some spare supplies with you in case of emergency.

It is always important to stay fuelled and hydrated during physical activity. High energy food such as bananas, raisins and protein bars are easy to digest and carry with you. Try to maintain a varied fluid intake to stay hydrated. People with ileostomies are missing out on the water and salt absorbing capacities of the colon which can mean they become dehydrated more quickly, so attention to rehydrating is especially important.

If you are finding it hard to get motivated to exercise, try to focus on the positives of physical activity and ask friends and family to support and encourage you.

Hernia Prevention

When a stoma is formed a potential site of weakness is created within the abdominal muscle. This weakness can lead to a bulge around the stoma, under the skin, where the contents of the abdomen push through the muscle layer. When this happens it is called a hernia and it is thought that as many as 50% of all the people who have a stoma also have a hernia. The risk factors for developing this kind of hernia (a parastomal hernia) include being overweight and having poor abdominal muscles. Studies have shown that appropriate abdominal exercises and the use of support belts when engaged in physical activity can reduce your risk significantly. However, if you already have a hernia you should speak to your doctor before undertaking any new exercise programme.

Heavy lifting should be avoided in the early days after surgery (first 3 months) but after this time you can build up gradually. Try to maintain a good posture to encourage your muscles to develop correctly.

Abdominal support garments can be worn during exercise and strenuous activity to give the muscle wall additional support and reduce the risk of a hernia developing. Details of these can be obtained from your stoma care nurse or via our website.

A full list of the sources used to produce this document may be obtained by contacting Ostomy Lifestyle.

Original date of issue: September 2012

Planned review date: September 2015