Although relatively unknown, Gastroparesis is a chronic digestive condition that affects hundreds of thousands of people a year in the U.S. alone. This condition inhibits the otherwise strong muscle contractions that propel digestive matter from the stomach through the digestive tract, slowing the digestive process to a crawl. The result is a variety of symptoms and complications, including vomiting, acid reflux, abdominal pain, and rapid weight loss.
The good news is that this condition, while incurable, is manageable, especially with the right exercise regimen.
Before thinking about exercising with gastroparesis, remember that proper hydration and nutrition are fundamental to managing this condition—overlooking these important daily needs can be a critical mistake. Why? Because the symptoms of gastroparesis, such as diarrhea and vomiting, can make people severely dehydrated and malnourished. With the help of a physician, gastroparesis sufferers can identify the right and wrong foods, how much to eat at each meal, and the amount of water to drink to achieve adequate hydration.
That being said, and in the spirit of Gastroparesis Awareness Month, here are some exercise suggestions that may help manage the symptoms of this chronic, often challenging disease—to limit symptoms and facilitate the digestive process.
- Walking—Simple, yes, but it’s best to start with the basics when suffering from gastroparesis. Walking is a low-impact way to accomplish exercise everyday, jump start appetite, and stimulate digestion. In cases of gastroparesis complicated by diabetes, the AlterG Treadmill can be employed to help those with other factors like hip, knee or low back pain, manage symptoms more effectively by reducing body-weight impact on lower extremity joints when walking.
- Tai Chi—Slow, controlled movement that incorporates elements of meditation, a consistent Tai Chi practice can help regulate the system much in the same way regular walking can. Again, the keyword here is “low impact” to protect joints and muscles while allowing for activity.
- Yoga—Although it’s certainly no cure all, the ancient practice of yoga can be beneficial in many ways. In the context of gastroparesis, yoga’s focus on core strength and breathing can help stimulate and strengthen the digestive area, helping to facilitate regularity and reduce discomfort.
While these three exercises can be performed at home or the local park, finding motivation—especially when fatigued by the symptoms of gastroparesis—can be difficult. Try to focus on 10-15 minutes of exercise a day, three times a week, and journal about each session and your feelings before and after.
It might also be helpful to connect with other gastroparesis sufferers with similar experiences. The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) offers support groups, Facebook discussions, and other resources for people suffering from this disease. Maybe there are people nearby to coordinate group exercise with? Or group participation in events like National Walking Day? Facebook groups can be especially effective for coordinating these kinds of activities.
While exercise should be a consistent part of any regimen designed to manage gastroparesis, it’s not a cure. Yes, it will help stimulate appetite, facilitate bowel movements, and improve movement and general well-being, but it should always be accompanied by the counsel of a physician, proper nutrition and hydration, and whatever medication is necessary. Gastroparesis can be contained and managed, its symptoms limited.
Exercising regularly is a proven place to start.