What Crohn's Disease Taught Me About Exercise

By: Alli Johnson


My journey developing a healthy relationship with exercise....

In August of 2018, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. After an extended time ( really my whole life) of not feeling well, I was initially relieved to finally have an answer. That relief quickly turned to panic as I learned how my condition would affect my life. Frequent doctor’s appointments, terrible side effects of medications and weekly injections soon enveloped my life.


I’ve always been an active person- from running half marathons to perfecting my chest press (still working on that), I almost never missed a workout. That all changed for me August of 2018. Following my diagnosis, I was afraid to workout. I wanted to get better so badly and was afraid exercise would worsen my inflammation and pain. So I quit. I’d go for an occasional run, but nothing consistent or vigorous. Initially that was hard for me- I craved to feel my heart pounding on a run and my arms shake after the last rep of my chest press. But I resisted. Surely not exercising was my path to wellness.


Writing this months later, this all seems silly. Don’t we all know that exercise helps with chronic disease? Well, no we don’t. And no, that’s not true. Sometimes the best thing for your body is not exercising. Wait, what? Did a personal trainer just tell me exercise might not keep me healthy? Yup, you heard me. Sounds crazy, right?


As someone whose profession is characterized by the saying “No pain, no gain” (admittedly I have said this before), I’m probably the last person who you’d think would tell you its OK to take days, weeks, maybe even months off of exercise.


It has taken me years to discover the value of listening to my body. I’ve pushed through chronic disease, injuries and pain to workout. I’ve had stomach pain so bad during a run that I literally laid on the pavement. I’ve gotten so tired during a long run that I walked 4 miles back home and debated calling a friend to come pick me up. I’ve felt defeated. I’ve cried. I’ve been in pain. All in the name of…..health?


Does that sound backwards to you? Yeah, it does to me too. After dealing with Crohn’s Disease for almost a year, I’ve completely reframed how I think about exercise. To me, exercise is just movement. Maybe that’s going for a 10 minute walk, running for an hour or lifting weights at the gym. Or maybe it’s walking across your house to go lay on the couch and watch TV.


Give yourself permission to listen to your body. Give yourself permission to skip workouts sometimes and not beat yourself up for it. Let your motivation to exercise be to be a good steward of your body. Recognize that being a good steward sometimes means letting your body get some rest.

Alli Johnson