Ostomy surgery can be life-saving, but it can also affect your physical and emotional well-being. That's why it's important to stay active and healthy after your surgery.
Exercise can help you improve your strength, mobility, mood, and confidence. It can also reduce your risk of complications such as hernia, infection, and blood clots. (2) However, not all exercises are suitable for people with an ostomy. You need to consider your stoma type, location, size, and output, as well as your overall health and fitness level.
Here are some simple exercises that you can do at home or outdoors to maintain a healthy lifestyle with an ostomy. Remember to always consult your doctor or ostomy nurse before starting any exercise program.
Walking is one of the easiest and safest exercises for people with an ostomy. It can help you improve your cardiovascular health, burn calories, and relieve stress. Walking can also help you get used to your new body image and feel more comfortable in public.
To start walking, you need a pair of comfortable shoes and a supportive ostomy pouch. You can wear a stoma belt or wrap to secure your pouch and prevent it from bouncing or rubbing against your skin. You can also wear loose-fitting clothes that don't restrict your movement or draw attention to your stoma.
Start slowly and gradually increase your distance and speed. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity walking per day, or break it up into shorter sessions throughout the day. You can walk around your neighbourhood, in a park, on a treadmill, or with a friend. It can be the most social form of exercise as you have a nice catch up with friends whilst you walk. Comfortable clothing is key and supportwear is vital to protect those muscles from herniating. A wide range of suport wear undergarments are now available as well as these super high waist support leggings, ideal for any sport
Pelvic floor exercises
Pelvic floor exercises, also known as Kegel exercises, are designed to strengthen the muscles that support your bladder, bowel, and uterus (if you have one). These muscles can become weak or damaged due to childbirth, aging, or other factors such as age or surgery. So this applies to men too.
Pelvic floor exercises can help you prevent or manage urinary or faecal incontinence, which can be a common issue for people with an ostomy. (3) They can also improve your sexual function and satisfaction.
To do pelvic floor exercises, you need to identify the muscles that you use to stop the flow of urine or gas. You can do this by trying to stop the flow while urinating or passing gas (but don't do this too often or for too long). Once you find the right muscles, you can practice contracting and relaxing them in different positions.
Start by lying down on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Squeeze the pelvic floor muscles as if you are trying to stop the flow of urine or gas. Hold for 3 seconds, then relax for 3 seconds. Repeat 10 times. Do this 3 times a day.
You can also do pelvic floor exercises while sitting, standing, or walking. As you get stronger, you can increase the duration and frequency of the contractions. You can also add some resistance by using a vaginal cone or weight (if you have a vagina) or an anal plug (if you have an anus).
Core exercises are designed to strengthen the muscles that support your spine, abdomen, and pelvis. These muscles can become weak or injured especially after ostomy surgery. Other factors negatively effecting core strenght are obesity and poor posture.
Core exercises can help you improve your balance, stability, posture, and digestion. They can also reduce your risk of developing a parastomal hernia, (2) which is a bulge of tissue or organs through the abdominal wall around the stoma. Unfortunately a parastomal hernia is incredibly common after stoma sugery but careful exercise and the right support wear have been shown to very significantly reduce those risks (7)
To do core exercises, you need a mat or a soft surface to lie on. You also need a supportive ostomy pouch that doesn't leak or irritate your skin. You can wear a stoma belt or wrap to secure your pouch and protect your stoma.
Start by lying down on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest. Breathe in deeply through your nose and feel your abdomen rise. Breathe out slowly through your mouth and feel your abdomen fall. Repeat 10 times.
You can also do other core exercises such as pelvic tilts, bridges, planks, bird dogs, and crunches. (2) However, avoid any exercise that causes pain, discomfort, or excessive pressure on your stoma. Start slowly and gradually increase the intensity and duration of the exercises.
Stretching is an essential part of any exercise routine. It can help you improve your flexibility, range of motion, blood circulation, and relaxation. It can also prevent muscle soreness and injury.
To do stretching exercises, you need a mat or a soft surface to lie on. You also need a supportive ostomy pouch that doesn't leak or irritate your skin. You can wear a stoma belt or wrap to secure your pouch and protect your stoma.
Start by lying down on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Bring one knee up to your chest and hold it with both hands. Gently pull it toward you until you feel a stretch in your lower back and hip. Hold for 15 seconds, then switch sides. Repeat 3 times on each side.
You can also do other stretching exercises such as neck rolls, shoulder rolls, arm circles, side bends, hamstring stretches, calf stretches, and quadriceps stretches. However, avoid any stretch that causes pain, discomfort
Besides walking, pelvic floor exercises, core exercises, and stretching, there are many other physical activities that can help you build and maintain strong core muscles and a healthy lifestyle with an ostomy. Some examples are:
Swimming is a low-impact exercise that works your whole body and improves your cardiovascular fitness. It can also help you relax and reduce stress. You can swim with an ostomy pouch as long as it is secure and waterproof, as most bags are now. You can also wear a stoma cap, dark-colored swimsuit to conceal your pouch, or specially designed supportive swimwear like the Comfizz swimwear range for men and women, which conceal the pouch as well as support the muscles.
Yoga is a mind-body practice that combines physical poses, breathing techniques, and meditation. It can help you improve your flexibility, balance, posture, and mental well-being. It can also help you cope with pain, anxiety, and depression. You can do yoga with an ostomy pouch as long as you avoid any poses that cause discomfort or pressure on your stoma. You can also wear a stoma belt or wrap to support your pouch and prevent it from showing through your clothes. There are stoma protectors which can allow you to do certain poses that might otherwise be uncomfortable
Cycling is another low-impact exercise that works your legs, heart, and lungs. It can help you burn calories, improve your endurance, and enjoy the outdoors. You can cycle with an ostomy pouch as long as it is comfortable and secure. You can also wear a stoma belt or wrap to protect your pouch and prevent it from rubbing against your skin or clothing. Long support boxer shorts are ideal for cycling or any form of exercise with a stoma.
These are just some examples of exercises that you can do with an ostomy. You can also try other activities such as dancing, golfing, hiking, or gardening. The key is to find something that you enjoy and that suits your abilities and goals.
Tips for exercising with an ostomy (4)
Before you start any exercise program, make sure to consult your doctor or ostomy nurse for advice and guidance. They can help you determine the best type, intensity, frequency, and duration of exercise for you. Most important, find something you enjoy as you are more likely to continue long term.
Here are some general tips for exercising with an ostomy:
- Drink plenty of water or fluids to avoid dehydration. Having an ostomy makes it easier to lose water and electrolytes through your stoma output. Dehydration can cause fatigue, headache, dizziness, cramps, and kidney problems. Aim for at least 8 glasses of water per day, or more if you sweat a lot or exercise in hot weather.
- Eat a balanced diet that meets your nutritional needs. Having an ostomy can affect your digestion and absorption of nutrients. You may need to adjust your diet according to your stoma type, output, and preferences. You may also need to take supplements or vitamins if recommended by your doctor or dietitian. Eat small and frequent meals that are high in protein, fiber, and healthy fats. Avoid foods that cause gas, odor, diarrhea, constipation, or blockage.
- Empty or change your pouch before exercising. Having a full or heavy pouch can cause discomfort, leakage, or skin irritation during exercise. It can also affect your performance and confidence. Empty or change your pouch before you start exercising or when it is one-third full. You can also use a smaller or closed-end pouch for exercise if you prefer.
- Wear supportive clothing. Having supportive clothing can prevent your ostomy pouch from bouncing, and more importantly support vulnerable muscles helping prevent a hernia developing.