19 December 2022

One of the biggest challenges I faced trying to regain my fitness after emergency lifesaving stoma surgery in January 2021 was overcoming the fear of taking up exercise and regaining some semblance of fitness.

I had heard about the risks of exercising after having a stoma, such it could lead to hernias or even cause the bowel to rupture again. I wasn’t sure if the stories I’d read were true or false but they did affect my attitude to exercise.

Before I had my stoma formed, I was fit and healthy, having played football and basketball for most of my adult life. I took my health very seriously and ate a healthy diet and avoided alcohol.

Then everything changed in Jan 2021 when ‘Stanley’ the stoma arrived after emergency bowel surgery. My bowels had become severely inflamed and I was told by the doctors that without immediate surgery, my life was in severe danger from sepsis.

In the first two weeks after my surgery, I had lost 24lbs, including some hard-earned muscle mass. It was amazing how quickly my body had changed.

The journey

Although I had lost weight very rapidly after surgery I was lucky that it didn’t take too long to start to turn the situation around.

In fact, as soon as my appetite returned, I began to eat everything in sight and my weight quickly began to increase.
While it was reassuring to find myself getting better physically, my emotions were still raw and I was feeling very sorry for myself.

When I got home from hospital to continue my recovery, I spent a lot of time just sitting on the sofa watching Netflix, which I knew wasn’t really getting back to normal.

Two months had passed and I was still not wanting to face the outside world. But I knew I had to challenge myself and face up to the new reality of life with a stoma. I resolved to make a conscious effort to begin exercising again.
For some, exercise has to be running a 5k race or lifting weights, or a heavy session in the gym.

But for me I had lost the exercise I’d take naturally just walking to work or popping to the shops on foot at lunch time.

With not much more than this as my basic plan, I decided walking was my ideal solution and I would once again start getting out and about in the fresh air.

Fortunately, I live on a nice quiet estate with lots of secluded paths and walkways, and as my confidence levels were still not that great, I had the perfect opportunity to begin my walks in peace without too much worry what I looked like to strangers or passers-by.

I put my tracksuit on, laced up my trainers and selected my favourite tunes on my phone, having first worked out my intended route. Then I left the house for my first ‘power’ walk.

The first two minutes were great. But soon after I became short of breath and my legs started killing me. And of course my stomach hurt – it still had 30 staples in it after my surgery and was tight and sore.

However, I had set myself a target walk of at least 10 minutes and was determined to hit it!

It was very strange to think that a 10-minute walk would be considered an achievement a couple of months earlier, but for me post-surgery it was like scaling a mountain.

When I got back home, although I was exhausted, I felt really pleased with myself, insofar that this small walk around the block was part of my recovery to normality.

One thing I realised it how I had previously taken small things like walking for granted, and never really saw it as exercise, but now it would become a key part of my physical and mental recovery.

The next task was to set myself some proper targets of how much exercise I would take, the frequency and a target weight I wanted to maintain.

I downloaded a fitness app on my phone and plugged in the number of daily steps I intended to do and my target weight.

Before my stoma I usually met the recommended 10k steps a day, but I also played a lot of sport and had a healthy weight.

So, I decided that my daily walking target would also be 10k steps a day except for the days I had to go to hospital for check-ups on ‘Stanley’: it was a target I was determined to stick to.

The more I exercised the better I felt from a physical and mental standpoint, and the more confident I became and I increased my daily step target to 12k, and I began to make healthy diet choices once again.

I was getting back to my old self, but I was still conscious I had a risk of getting a hernia if I overexerted myself.
As my fitness improved, I decided I needed to increase the strength in my stomach muscles, so I added some pelvic floor exercises to my routines to daily regime to reduce that risk.

Looking back, it has been a long 18-month journey but slowly and surely with dedication, focus and family support my has fitness returned, my muscles have grown stronger and I have felt much more like my pre-surgery self.
The task now is to make sure I continue the journey.