Swimming is a joint-friendly activity that may be a suitable exercise for people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). “Swimming was great because it took a lot of the pressure off of my body. I didn’t have to jump or run,” says ulcerative colitis patient Courtney Schmidt (Instagram: @selfiec; Twitter: @SelfieC), 21, Corona, California, who also swam competitively for 11 years. And if you’re looking for more than a casual swim, then you’re in luck: Research has shown that regular exercise with IBD may help relieve stress and strengthen bones. (Do remember to talk to your doctor before you start any new exercise regimens.)

Whether you’d like to add swimming to your regular workout schedule, or just enjoying the summer season, these tips will help you navigate the pool.

1. Use the bathroom first.

Ask to use the bathroom upon arriving at the pool or beach. Knowing where the bathroom is from the get-go helps relieve anxiety when urgency hits. “As soon as I get to the beach or the pool, I ask to use the restroom, so I know where it is, even if I don’t have to go at that time, says Schmidt. “It would stress me out if I didn’t know where the bathroom was located.”

2. Pack double.

It may be common knowledge to bring extra underwear. But don’t forget to bring a second bathing suit, as well as a second towel. It is always better to be over-prepared than to be left out of the fun because you had an emergency and forgot to pack a second bathing suit.

3. Bring some alternative activities.

Feeling ill while everyone is swimming in the ocean, or taking off down the beach? Pack some stuff to occupy yourself if you have to sit out a few activities.

“I am always thinking ahead so that I can still enjoy the summer and not feel left out,” says IBD advocate Jessica Doyle (Instagram: @ jessica_bishop_doyle), 35, Kent, United Kingdom, who was diagnosed with Crohn’s in 2000. I bring a book or headphones with me, in case people decide to go on long walk and I can’t make it. At least that way, I know I can read or listen to music until everyone gets back, adds Doyle.

4. Stock up on IBD-friendly swimwear.

You don’t have to sit on the sidelines while everyone is enjoying the water. If you’re worried about what swimwear to buy, try these tips:

  • Pick swimsuit bottoms in darker colors
  • Opt for swimsuits that do not compress your stomach
  • Consider bathing suits that have adjustable strings, so if your weight fluctuates you don’t have to purchase a new suit

5. Bring a portable chair backpack.

Fatigue with IBD is common—but that doesn’t make it any less challenging to manage, especially in the heat. For this reason, I recommend you bring your own portable backpack camping chair. Whether you’re at the beach or a pool, it’s very helpful to have a place to sit down and take a breather. And if you are dealing with stomaching cramping, having a chair to sit on can help you ease through the pain.

6. Pack 2 reusable waterproof wet/dry bags.

These reusable, waterproof wet/dry bags are a game changer. They’re great for wet bathing suits and towels, and available for purchase on Amazon.

Pack a few of these in case you have an accident while out at a pool or beach, where it can be challenging to properly clean your clothes. A waterproof wet bag is a great place to put these clothes until you can bring them home and wash them. These bags will also contain the smell and the mess. An added bonus: The bags are washable so you can throw them into the washing machine when you get home along with the soiled clothing.

Check Your Insecurities

Easier said than done—but try not to let body weight fluctuations stop you from enjoying the water. Be it side effects from medication or weight loss from a flare-up, our bodies fluctuate with IBD. It’s not uncommon for people with IBD to experience body image dissatisfaction whether it be from swelling of the stomach, weight gain or the like. Try to find acceptance and peace with your body. You won’t regret creating wonderful memories with your friends and family—but you might regret missing out because you were worried about what others might think of you.


Natalie Suppes

Natalie Suppes, Founder of For The Health—an online health and fitness coaching company working specifically with women who have IBD. She’s a Crohn’s and Colitis advocate, as well as a motivational speaker, personal trainer, and is currently in school for holistic nutrition. Suppes spent 12 years in an extreme Crohn’s flare while simultaneously climbing the corporate ladder. She decided to turn her pain into her purpose by opening up For The Health and by doing so has helped thousands of women become the healthiest versions of themselves. Her passion is helping women who are chronically ill with IBD take their lives back, and not let the disease take over.

Oshi is a tracking tool and content resource. It does not render medical advice or services, and it is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. You should always review this information with your healthcare professionals.