Patient Blogs | Crohn's Disease
Exercise Helps Me Manage Crohn's Disease
photo of reaching for hand weights

Growing up, you’d never associate me with being active. Of course, my parents signed me up for sports like basketball and swimming, but I didn’t enjoy them enough to stay consistent with them.

I always stood in the back of the gym for dodgeball and walked the mile run every year. Anything beyond playing outdoor games with my friends and biking around the neighborhood felt awful. I preferred chilling at home with my books, and music. I would have rolled my eyes if anyone told me how much I love exercising and staying active as an adult.

After dealing with Crohn’s disease for many years, I know my body has the tendency to not absorb all the nutrients necessary to function at its optimal level, including calcium and iron. Missing key nutrients means that I regularly experience symptoms such as abdominal pain, fatigue, and weakness. I took medication and supplements, but the disease kept progressing. I began researching complementary practices, things that I could control that may help improve my wellbeing.

One of the main things I found out is that exercise in any form can ease some symptoms. As much as I detested the idea of exercising, I hated Crohn’s more. So the main obstacle was figuring out what I would do.

I knew, given my relationship with activity, that I would need some accountability factor, so I joined a gym. I figured taking some cardio classes would be enough, but after taking a tour, I realized I wanted to focus more on strength through weightlifting, so I signed up for personal training. It was love at first lift! I started out with the lowest weights, and the ability to work against some resistance feels as though I’m also challenging all the pain and anxiety in my life.

My first couple of personal trainers lasted a few months because of their own life transitions, and they helped me understand how I could get the most benefits while still protecting my body. For instance, spending a whole session focusing on one area of the body -- such as the infamous “leg day” -- could result with me in a mini-Crohn’s flare and in bed for several days. It wasn’t sustainable, so I told my now current trainer that I prefer full body workouts.

Ever since I’ve gone that route, I’ve gotten so much stronger and healthier. I struggle with having a lack of appetite, and weightlifting helps me induce it. Some other surprising benefits: It helped me recover from osteoporosis and anemia.

Most importantly, it taught me I can challenge myself to try new things. I participated in a half marathon for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation in Ireland. I initially planned to run it but had to walk after a non-related foot injury. This turned out to be a good thing because I attempted training for a 5k and hated it!

I also attended retreats for Girls with Guts, an organization that supports women with IBD, where I’ve tried activities such as ziplining, archery, and axe throwing. It was at these events that I met the most amazing people. Even an introvert such as myself appreciates the deep connections I made when I chose to do the unexpected.

Working out during the pandemic has been tough. I attempted body workouts, but never felt the same challenge and joy that I do with weightlifting. Plus, my wrists and ankles are sensitive areas that can’t handle much forced pressure. I prefer walking outdoors and jumping rope, and plan to incorporate them after I rejoin the gym. 

That’s the main key to sticking with an exercise routine. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing just as long as you're enjoying it. While I’ll never be a contestant on American Ninja Warrior, and if you see me running, you should join me because there’s a herd of zombies chasing us, I’m doing something that makes both my soul and my body happy.



Photo Credit: JGI/Tom Grill via Getty Images

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Basmah Ali

Basmah Ali

Diagnosed since 2003

Basmah Ali has been living with Crohn's disease for 18 years. She is working toward becoming a certified wellness coach and loves sharing food and lifestyle tips on Instagram. Ali is a part of Girls With Guts, an organization addressing obstacles women of color encounter while living with inflammatory bowel disease. She enjoys traveling, weightlifting, reading, and playing with her nephews and nieces. Connect with her on Instagram and Twitter.

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