The greatest fear that many people who live with a stoma have about exercise is developing a hernia. However, the right exercise can help maintain muscle strength and actually reduce this risk. In essence, having a stoma doesn’t need to stop you doing exercise. If it feels comfortable then it will also be keeping you healthy too. Speak to your stoma nurse if you have any questions or concerns about doing exercise.

It is estimated that around 13,000 people undergo stoma surgery each year in the UK. One reason for a stoma is as part of the surgical treatment for bowel cancer. Each year 77% of patients (around 3,000) undergoing anterior resection for rectal cancer will have a defunctioning or end stoma formed and 27% will still have a stoma 18 months later.

The "fear factor"

People with a stoma report fatigue, feeling unattractive, low energy, fear of appliance leakage and fear of a hernia, all of which greatly impact their quality of life. Reversal and closure surgery is not advisable for some patients nor is it necessarily a solution for poor quality of life. It is therefore crucial that interventions to address poor quality of life in relation to people who live with a stoma are established.

The evidence on exercise with a stoma

There is strong evidence that physical activity improves the quality of life in patients with cancer. Bowel cancer patients with a stoma are less likely to participate in physical activity programmes than those without a stoma and having a stoma has a negative impact on participation in sports and leisure activities.

For this reason, we are funding a pilot study to see if the way that exercise interventions are delivered help people to manage their fears about exercising with a stoma. Ultimately, we want everyone who lives with a stoma to be able to enjoy a full and active life.

The Colostomy Association has some great tips on exercising with a stoma. For some inspiration that life with a stoma does not mean an end to physical activity, look no further than Sarah Russell.