Diverticulosis is a benign condition in which the inner layer of the intestine pushes through weak spots in the outer lining and bulges out to form little pouches. If these pouches become inflamed or infected, it leads to diverticulitis which is a painful condition that can cause serious complications if left untreated. The US has a high prevalence of diverticulitis and affects about 50 percent of the population over 60.
6 fitness tips to prevent diverticulitis
Approximately 20% of patients experience a recurrence or flare-up which typically occurs within 5 years. During a flare-up, you are likely to experience severe abdominal pain on the lower left side. Your doctor will probably recommend antibiotics, a special diet and plenty of rest to help you recover. However, there are a few ways in which exercise can help prevent diverticulitis.
1. Exercise regularly
Stick to an exercise regimen as regular exercise will improve the muscle tone of your intestines. This will help to reduce your risk of a flare-up. This muscle toning will also encourage regular bowel movements which will reduce the risk of infection and inflammation. If you feel the urge to move your bowels after exercising, don’t ignore or delay it.
2. Exercise vigorously
Low intensity exercises such as walking can help in weight maintenance and improve heart health but studies show that diverticulitis patients will benefit most from vigorous exercise as it can help to prevent diverticulitis. It is recommended that you get at least 90 minutes of vigorous exercise every week. Create a diverticulitis workout plan that includes running or jogging, swimming and HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). Your workout should increase your heart rate, make you sweat and leave you feeling winded. A simple way to ensure that you are hitting the right intensity level is to try to speak after you are done with your routine – you should be breathless to the point where you can only manage to say a few words before you need to take a breath.
3. Include Cardio in your workouts
Aerobic exercise speeds up the movement of food through the gastrointestinal tract. This reduces the risk of constipation which in turn reduces the risk of a diverticulitis flare-up. Use the elliptical at your gym as this is one of the best cardio machines. Start at a steady pace (your base-pace rate) and stay at that speed for 2 minutes. After that, double your speed for 2 minutes (without changing your incline) and then recover for 1 minute. Repeat these 5-minute intervals as many times as you can and then move to 5 minutes at base-pace to help you cool down. If you don’t go to the gym, you can simply follow the same intervals with running and jogging. Studies show that exercise also helps to enhance the proliferation of healthy gut bacteria which in turn reduces your risk of an infection and subsequent diverticulitis flare-up.
4. Include fat-burning exercises in your workouts
Obesity is a risk factor for diverticulitis so include fat-burning exercises in your regular workouts. Obesity can reduce your exercise options as your excess weight can put a huge strain on your ligaments and joints. This does not mean that you don’t have options – the elliptical and rowing machines will help you burn calories while keeping the weight off your joints. Swimming and water aerobics are your best options as the water’s buoyancy will support your body’s weight. This will allow you to increase the intensity of your sessions so that you can lose weight quickly.
5. Use MET (metabolic equivalent of task) to prevent over exercising
One metabolic equivalent (MET) is defined as the amount of oxygen consumed while sitting at rest and is equal to 3.5 ml O2 per kg body weight x min. Simply put, it is a method that can help you determine which physical exercises you can participate in without putting excessive strain on your body. You can use an online MET calculator to help you plan your workouts. A study found that men who engaged in a minimum of 28 MET-hours per week of vigorous physical activity had a 34% reduction in the risk of diverticulitis, and a 39% reduction in the risk of diverticular bleeding as compared to men who did not participate in vigorous physical exercise.
6. Monitor vital signs
When you’re recovering from a diverticulitis flare-up, you may be eager to get back to your regular exercise routine but pushing yourself too hard can lead to further complications. Monitor your vital signs (BP, HR, SPO2), especially in the first few weeks to make sure that you are not over exercising. Diverticulitis often causes weight loss and can leave you weak so take this into account and start slowly and cautiously. Talk to your doctor before you start any exercise regimen.
In addition to regular exercise, a high fiber diet coupled with an adequate intake of fluids will go a long way in preventing diverticulitis flare-ups.