Let's Talk Cardiovascular

Last updated: June 2017

During my most recent visit to my GI doc, we were brainstorming about possible ways to ease my stress and anxiety in order to reduce the frequency and severity of my IBS attacks. We have been through several medications, some of which work well, to a point. Well, it's that point that I would like to get past. I want to do as well as I can and am up for any suggestions as to how to alter my current game plan to do BETTER. Of course, the topic of exercise came up and she asked how I was doing with that. I told her that I was walking regularly, doing yoga and using the weights and machines at the gym. She asked me about the walking and obviously thought that was good, but made interesting comments about the rest of my exercise regimen. She asked if I thought I was doing more strength training or cardio work. I sort of chuckled because I knew what was coming. I HATE CARDIOVASCULAR exercise. Always have. Even as a three sport athlete in high school and into my early twenties, I despised long distance running and any machines that required that I work my heart. I find it tedious, boring and I prefer to spend my time doing exercise that I can see immediate results from, like push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, weights, etc. Well, I'm not twenty anymore and...I have IBS. She explained that she had read numerous studies that concerted cardiovascular training at least three times a week was not only GOOD for my stress and anxiety, but over the course of time, changes the structure of the brain to become more resistant to stress related thought processes and behavior. She also reinforced that it was also a very positive way of working towards a life with fewer and less severe IBS flare ups. I begrudgingly took the advice and headed home.

Cardio exercise

I want to be clear about something here. Cardiovascular exercise does not need to be marathon runs, jumping rope at superhuman speeds or hours on a treadmill. Depending on your age, your severity of illness, the state of your body and a number of other factors, it is very important to choose your cardio work carefully. You may have weak ankles, knee hitches, back spasms, hip tweaks or any number of issues. Choose for you...but choose. I chose walking quickly for several miles at first, augmented by hiking with ample hills. I started slow but kept up with it for two months in a row, three times a week. Well, guess what? As with other things I've incorporated into my self-care regimen (yoga, meditation, probiotics, herbal tea), I began to see tangible, very real results rather quickly. My stress did not rise as quickly, therefore giving me time to recognize and manage it. My body felt stronger and my lung capacity increased, helping my meditation and breathing exercises become more effective. I also noticed that my flare ups were less frequent and not as debilitating.

I am not suggesting that this is a wonder fix. I am also not suggesting that it is easy, especially if you haven't exercised in a while. But, while I had been told over and over again that EXERCISE was key, I don't think I was exactly clear about what particular exercise would be best for my set of problems at the moment. Start slow, don't get down on yourself and see where it takes you. Be as diligent as you can and I think you may see some results that perhaps you weren't expecting. Good luck.

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