Exercising with a stoma? You can do it, say researchers

Yes, you can exercise with a stoma – and the benefits will be life-changing.

That’s the positive message from research scientists who have produced a professionals’ guide to help patients recovering from bowel surgery.

The manual, believed to be the first of its kind, was compiled by a team at the University of Highlands and Islands as a result of research funded by Bowel & Cancer Research.

It is targeted at physical activity professionals who are helping stoma patients get back to full health.

Principal investigator Professor Gill Hubbard said stoma patients, many of whom have had bowel cancer surgery, are wary of physical activity.

We know that people who have been treated for bowel cancer or conditions such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease improve their chances of living a longer, healthier life if they are physically active.

"But they worry that their stoma appliance might leak, or that they might get a hernia. Their self-confidence can often hit rock bottom,” she said.

Prof Hubbard’s five-strong team recruited nine stoma patient volunteers and consulted stoma nurses and physical activity specialists to come up with a 12-week programme.

They then trained three physical activity instructors to lead 12 weekly 30-60-minute bespoke sessions with specially chosen volunteers either in a gym, outside or via video conferencing and phone calls.

Professor Hubbard said:

We didn’t want to produce Olympic athletes – we wanted to discover whether we could help people with a stoma to gain confidence by undertaking physical activity and to do that safely.

Fitness Consultant Andrew Morris was one of the trainers. “There is a lot of potential for people with a stoma to take part in exercise,” he said.

“In the gym there are cardiovascular machines, treadmills, bikes, upper and lower body machines. You can use the outdoor environment as well – press-ups in the park and so on.

“I’ve seen various benefits such as reduced anxiety levels, and people returning to work earlier.”

One the volunteers, Rebecca Langley, was worried that she might have to give up running after an ileostomy operation. “I didn’t know if it would be safe,” she said.

“I have definitely benefited from this programme both mentally and physically. I found it supportive, specialised and personalised. It was so helpful at a very low time and pushed me through in a safe and encouraging way.”

Chief Executive of Bowel & Cancer Research, Deborah Gilbert, said: “Every year around 13,000 people undergo stoma surgery. Whilst there is clear evidence that physical activity improves the quality of life for patients with cancer or IBD, those with a stoma are less likely to participate.

“We are delighted to have funded this important study. It is vital, as a charity, that we fund research which actually means something to patients and delivers results.” 

Download the manual

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