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So much you can still do with a stoma

I have just read an amazing story about Sarah Russell who was struck down with a perforated bowel when she was 37 years old. During the following three years she had five serious abdominal surgeries to remove the majority of the large bowel.

In 2012 she had a stoma, a surgical opening fitted with a bag to collect waste from the small intestine, and she wondered what sort of life she could have now she was wearing the colostomy bag.

In fact it turned out she could do pretty well everything and more. Last year she took part in the gruelling Himalayan 100 race, covering 100 miles in stages across some of the most scenic but also challenging terrain in the world.

While many people our age won’t seriously be looking at doing such a demanding event, nevertheless it is an eye opener on what can be achieved despite having a stoma.

We decided to find out more through Ostomy Lifestyle, a UK charity established in 2007 to give support and information to anyone affected by stoma surgery on their bowel or bladder.

Their attitude is that having a stoma should never be a barrier to leading a full and active life.

This is their advice:

Adapting to life with an ostomy can be a challenging time, and the thought of exercise may well be the last thing on your mind as you recover from surgery.

But getting fit and being active could actually be the key to a faster recovery and a better quality of life in the long run.

Provided you have agreement from your doctor, there is no medical reason why you can’t participate in exercise, or even competitive sport, when you have an ostomy. Our research found people with stomas enjoying activities ranging from walking to rock climbing and yoga to martial arts, so there is something out there for everyone!

Even if you were fit before your illness and surgery, it is important to start slowly and build up gradually. It is possible your confidence may have taken a knock, and you might have genuine worries about your appliance leaking, being embarrassed and feel anxious about the practicalities of physical activity, so here are some ideas and tips to get you started!

Walking

Walking is the ideal choice for everyone and can be as gentle or brisk as you wish. After your surgery walking will get your system moving and help recovery. Go easy to begin with and build up slowly, perhaps aiming to go a little further each day. When you’re fully recovered however, walking longer distances and more briskly is a great way to stay fit. Why not try joining a rambling group or a Nordic walking class?

Running and Jogging

If you were a runner prior to surgery, there’s no reason why you can’t continue to run after your operation, you will just need to build back up slowly. If you are new to running, you can follow a ‘beginners’ programme just like anyone else. Be aware however that you will need to work hard on your core stability – more so than someone who hasn’t gone through abdominal surgery - to stay injury free so ask a personal trainer or physiotherapist for advice.

Yoga and Pilates

Your posture, strength and flexibility will have all been affected during surgery, periods of bed rest and recovery, so a pilates or yoga class is ideal. It can also be a great way to relax your mind and re-build confidence in your body. You may need to adapt positions where you lie on your stomach, so ask your instructor for advice, and always listen to your body.

Swimming

Swimming is a fantastic activity for people with an ostomy as it is great for cardiovascular fitness and toning. It is natural to have concerns about swimming and some people worry about their appliance leaking and feel self conscious in a swimsuit. The adhesive on stoma bags remains effective in water, why not test it in the bath first?! Flange extenders can increase security and there is a wide range of swimwear available that provide support and discretion.

Gym work and fitness classes

Once you are fully recovered from surgery, you can start to use light weights in the gym and take part in fitness classes such as Zumba and aerobics. Start very gently, and if you experience any discomfort or pain in your incisions or around the stoma then stop immediately. If at all possible, get a trainer or physiotherapist to put a programme together for you and show you how to execute the exercises properly.

Contact sports

If you did contact sports like rugby or martial arts prior to surgery and wish to continue, there is no reason why you can’t, but just be cautious and try to avoid injuring your stoma. Damage to the stoma is unlikely, but it is possible, so it is advisable to wear a ‘stoma protector’ over your appliance whenever you practise or play. The same applies to sports like cricket where you might be in danger of being hit in the abdomen.

Managing Your Stoma

Some people find it helpful to time meals so that their stoma is not active during exercise as a filling bag can become uncomfortable and may be more prone to leakage. The best way to ascertain the right time to eat is through trial and error and knowing your own body.

It is always important to stay fuelled and hydrated during physical activity. High energy food such as bananas, raisins and protein bars are easy to digest and carry with you. Try to maintain a varied fluid intake to stay hydrated. People with ileostomies are missing out on the water and salt absorbing capacities of the colon which can mean they become dehydrated more quickly, so attention to rehydrating is especially important.

More information is available at: www.ostomylifestyle.org/content/about-us

Another useful website is: http://www.stomawise.co.uk

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