An effective gastroparesis management plan has (at least) three components: medical, dietary and lifestyle. While most GPers pay a great deal of attention to the first two, I’ve found that lifestyle modifications — including the importance of physical activity — are often underestimated or ignored altogether.
Since yesterday was National Start Walking Day, I thought I’d take some time to talk about why I consider walking to be one of the best tools we have for managing gastroparesis. (I’m actually writing this post while on the treadmill, thanks to my handy SurfShelf.)
Walking is one of the cheapest, easiest and most versatile forms of exercise, which can lower blood pressure, boost immunity, and decrease your risk of all kinds of medical conditions, including heart disease, type-2 diabetes, breast cancer, and depression.
But for those with gastroparesis, there are more immediate benefits:
- Moderate exercise has been found to increase the rate of gastric emptying. (Strenuous exercise, however, actually slows gastric emptying.)
- Exercise can stimulate appetite.
- Studies have shown that consistent exercise increases energy levels, even among those with chronic medical conditions.
- Exercise has been found to reduce anxiety up to 20% in patients with chronic medical conditions.
Some GPers worry that daily physical activity will exacerbate weight loss. Turns out moderate exercise (like walking) does not automatically lead to weight loss and, for the reasons listed above, may actually help people gain weight. Personally, I’ve found that I lose weight when I stop exercising completely.
How long and how often should you walk? You’ll need to find what works best for you. Many of my clients find that a short walk after each meal helps alleviate fullness and other symptoms. Others hit the treadmill for an hour each morning, saying it kickstarts their appetite and gives them more energy. If you’re currently sedentary, start small* — just a 10-15 minute walk after dinner, for example.
I typically walk twice a day for a total of four to six miles, depending on my symptoms and other commitments. Yes, it takes up a good chunk of time but I’ve found that my daily walks seem to make everything else I’m doing more effective. I’m able to eat more and feel better. Can’t beat that!
*Talk with your doctor before starting any exercise regimen.