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Exercising Post-Abdominal Surgery – Ostomy Awareness Day

back ground image of some gym equipment, including kettle bells, exercise ball and stand up punching bag. Text in a white box that reads: Exercising post-abdominal surgery - world ostomy day

According to the British Journal of Nursing, approximately 21,000 people a year undergo Stoma formation surgery. Whilst an increasing number of people are undergoing this life-saving surgery, the information available for those who wish to exercise with a stoma is limited. Earlier this year, Petrina Barber of the Beyond the Stoma campaign spoke to Vim Health to help raise awareness on the benefits of exercise and how to do so safely post-surgery. In this article, Vim Health shares insight into exercising post-abdominal surgery for Ostomy Awareness Day.

Before starting any exercise program after surgery, it’s crucial to consult your healthcare professional, such as your surgeon or stoma care nurse. They can provide personalized advice based on your medical condition and help you understand any limitations or precautions you should take during physical activity. Exercising with a stoma is not only possible but highly encouraged for individuals with an ostomy. Regular physical activity can significantly improve overall health, boost mood, and increase quality of life. Whether you have a colostomy, ileostomy, or urostomy, here are some tips to help you exercise safely and comfortably with a stoma. 

Start Slowly

If you are new to exercise or have recently undergone surgery, begin with low-impact activities, and gradually increase the intensity over time. Walking, gentle stretching, or swimming are excellent starting points. Above all, focus on strengthening that core first. We use our core for everyday tasks such as sitting in a chair, bending down to pick things up, coughing and sneezing. Something like abdominal surgery can take a long time to recover from if not done correctly. The video below shares insight specifically for those first exercises post-surgery. Here, Bex discusses the importance of core strengthening exercises and shares two useful moves for getting started: 

Things to consider when exercising.

Wear comfortable and supportive clothing during exercise. Consider using an ostomy support belt or wrap to help secure the ostomy pouch and prevent it from moving excessively during physical activity. Make sure your stoma pouch is empty before starting your workout. An empty bag will be more comfortable and secure during exercise. Different types of physical activity may affect your Stoma’s output. For instance, high-impact exercises might increase output for some individuals. Pay attention to how your Stoma responds to different activities and adjust accordingly. Staying well-hydrated and nourished is essential for everyone, but it’s critical for those with a stoma. Be sure to drink enough water before, during, and after exercise, and consider having small, easily digestible snacks to maintain your energy levels.

Listen to Your Body 

Many types of exercises are stoma-friendly, but some may require modifications. Generally, low-impact activities like walking, cycling, yoga, and swimming are well-tolerated by most individuals with a stoma. Maintaining a strong core is optimal for stoma support and overall well-being. Engage in gentle core-strengthening exercises that do not put undue pressure on your abdominal area and slowly build from there. If you enjoy contact sports or activities with a risk of impact to the abdomen, consider wearing additional protection over your Stoma, such as a stoma guard or protective padding. Always pay attention to your body’s signals during exercise. If you experience discomfort, pain, or unusual symptoms, stop the activity immediately and seek advice from your healthcare professional.

Exercising with a stoma can significantly improve your physical and mental well-being. By starting with slow core-focused exercises and working closely with your healthcare team, you can enjoy an active and fulfilling lifestyle with your Stoma.

Changing the narrative with Beyond the Stoma.

Beyond the Stoma is a campaign championed by Petrina Barber that seeks to: “Raise awareness about the challenges and opportunities associated with living with a stoma, shine a light on those suffering in silence, and break down negative stereotypes that may hold individuals back. Our campaign aims to create a community that inspires and encourages people to thrive, not just survive.” For more information on the Beyond the Stoma Campaign, follow their journey here.

“Exercise and training became my passion after cancer and a way in which I developed a positive sense of physical and mental well-being. The narrative around exercise with a stoma can sometimes be terrifying and, in many instances, can put people off exercise altogether. 

Post my stoma surgery, I focussed solely on the basics, intent on strengthening my core through modified and appropriate rehab exercises. For me, a strong core is foundational, not just for getting back to training but for all of life’s activities and how you move your body.”

“Having a stoma doesn’t have to hold you back.”

“The best advice I would give anyone post-stoma surgery is that exercise is for everyone, but the path to exercise is as individual as you are. Focus on strengthening your core, develop an understanding of your body, listen to yourself and don’t compare to anyone else; what’s right for one person isn’t suitable for everyone and above all, find what you enjoy!” 

– Petrina Barber, Beyond the Stoma Founder.

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