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Colostomy: Living an Active Life

You have been told you need a colostomy or you have recently had one. Once you heal from surgery, you can still live an active life. In fact, if you have a chronic disease, such as Crohn’s disease, your quality of life may get better now that you've had surgery. It's mostly up to you if and how much having a colostomy will limit your activities.

Man and woman in business clothes walking together.
A colostomy won’t keep you from working, being active, and living your life.

Work

You can return to work as soon as your surgeon says it’s OK. Keep in mind that having a colostomy is not a handicap. People with colostomies do all kinds of work. This includes jobs that are outdoors and physical. It also includes jobs that require a lot of standing or sitting. In fact, some athletes and movie stars have colostomies.

Keep these tips in mind:

  • If your job includes heavy labor, such as lifting or digging, talk with your healthcare provider. You may need to wear a special support to prevent a hernia. A hernia is a weakness or defect in the wall of the belly that allows the contents of the belly to push outward.

  • If you move a lot in your work, you may want to wear an ostomy belt over the pouch to hold it in place.

Check with your health insurance plan to see if these aids are covered.

Activity

Talk with your wound, ostomy, and continence (WOC) nurse. A WOC nurse is specially trained to care for people who have an ostomy. You'll need to limit your activity for 6 weeks after surgery to prevent a hernia from forming. 

You can most likely get back to your normal routine soon after surgery. This includes doing the sports and hobbies you love, such as golf, aerobics, skiing, dancing, or taking walks. Being active is a good way to relieve stress and stay healthy. It can help you feel better about yourself, too.

Until you have your strength back, ease into being active. If you lift weights or do a contact sport, such as football or karate, you may need to wear a special support or cover to protect your stoma.

Bathing and swimming

Water will not hurt your stoma. You can take showers and baths, with or without the pouch. You can also go swimming. Pouches don’t show under most swimwear. Some tips:

  • Women often prefer to wear one-piece swimsuits with patterns or skirts.

  • Men often prefer boxer swim shorts.

  • You can also use a rubber belt to help hold the pouch in place. Elastic belts may change size when wet.

Clothing

Today’s pouches lie flat against the body. That means they don’t show, even under tight clothing. You can wear knits, belts, stretch pants—anything you like. Women can wear pantyhose, tights, and panty girdles. Just make sure that belts and waistbands don’t rub against your stoma.

Travel 

With a colostomy, you can most likely still travel where you’d like. But you’ll need to take all your supplies with you:

  • If you fly, pack them in your carry-on luggage.

  • If you drive, don’t put them in the trunk or glove compartment. They can get hot and melt.

In other countries, watch what you eat and drink. Don't have ice, tap water, or unpeeled fruits or vegetables. Drink only bottled water or boil tap water and let it cool. These dietary changes may affect how your bowel functions.

Also when you travel by car, fasten your seatbelt above or below your stoma to prevent rubbing.

Online Medical Reviewer: Jen Lehrer MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN
Date Last Reviewed: 12/1/2021
© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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