Being active with IC can seem nearly impossible. It’s hard to find motivation to get outdoors and do something when you don’t feel well, and you are worried about making your pain worse. But our bodies need activity and sunshine. (Hello, vitamin D!) Our families want to spend time with us doing summer activities. And it just feels really good to do something that makes us feel almost normal again.
Your summertime activity routine may need some tweaking after your diagnosis, but being outside and active in the summer doesn’t have to be a thing of the past!
While these 20 low-impact outdoor activities should work for most IC patients, please also listen to your own body and know your own limits. Remember that each day is different and what was OK yesterday might not be OK today and vice versa. Don’t cause yourself greater pain by being in denial that you need rest.
And definitely start slowly with any or all of these activities to make sure they work for you. If you haven’t been active for a while, take it even slower and give yourself a chance to get into it. Always check with your physician about starting any sort of new exercise regiment, especially if you have health conditions in addition to IC.
With all of that said, let’s get to it!
Is there any way that walking isn’t going to be at the top of a low-impact exercise list? Nope! It’s just a really good exercise that you can do slowly or briskly – whatever is best for you. And that may be different from one day to the next, which is also OK. The nice thing about walking is that you get to do it on your terms and on your own time.
Summer is the perfect time to get outside and walk. You can walk through your neighborhood with your pooch, stroll through the farmers market with friends, walk on a nature trail with your significant other or walk through the county fair with your children.
If you have to make frequent bathroom breaks, look for routes that don’t stray far from bathrooms. If you are able to kick it up a notch, find a hilly neighborhood to walk through or add hand weights for additional exercise benefit.(1)
This one can be a bit trickier for IC patients. While swimming can be a great low impact exercise that strengthens muscles with affecting joints, where you swim can cause issues for your bladder.(2) Some patients are sensitive to chlorine, which can be a challenge in pool swimming. Like with everything else, take it slow and be prepared for some trial and error.
To help have a good swimming experience, consider applying Vaseline or KY jelly to your urethral area to help be a barrier between your skin and pool chemicals. Other important tips are to change out of a wet swimsuit as soon as possible and rinse off as soon as you can. Be sure also to check that the pool is well cared for before jumping into the water.
If chlorine is a big trigger for you, seek out salt water or bromine swimming pools instead.
3. Kayaking or canoeing
Rowing is a great low impact sport that can work all the major muscle groups of your body.(2) Rowing can strengthen your abs, lower back and legs while burning more calories than cycling or running for the same amount of time.(2) You can opt to rent or buy a light kayak and hit the water with a friend or consider a rowboat trip down the river with your family. It’s a great way to enjoy the beauty of nature and be active outdoors.
Be sure to plot stops along the way where you can use the restroom. If you are traveling on a river through a city, there should be ample stops for bathroom breaks. If you are farther out in the wilderness, be sure to bring along things like your own toilet paper if you need to go in nature or, even better, travel johns, which are small enough to fit in your backpack or large pockets and instantly gel and deodorize liquid.(3)
Bicycling with your family or on your own is a great way to get outdoors and enjoy some activity as well. However, finding a comfortable bike and bike seat is of the utmost importance for IC patients. The wrong seat can cause you greater pain and discomfort. But there are some options that work well for IC patients.
The first is a recumbent bike. These bikes have seats that are more like chairs and less likely to put additional pressure on your pelvic floor. They are a great option for IC patients.
The second is to get an upgraded bike seat. Look for what is called an easy seat that has a gap in the center of it, so it doesn’t even touch your pelvic floor. You want to find a seat that supports your sit bones and doesn’t have a long nose that will be added pressure on your pelvic floor.(4)
If buying a majorly upgraded bike seat or recumbent bike isn’t in your budget, consider at least upgrading your bike seat to something with extra gel padding to make the ride easier. Just like with swimming, it’s a bit of trial and error to see what works best for you.
Unlike other summer sports, like baseball, volleyball doesn’t require as much running around. It can be a great way to get outside, play with friends and family without causing your more bladder pain. Volleyball works your legs, arms and core muscles and can help your burn calories.(5) To kick it up a notch for fitness, consider playing beach or sand volleyball because it burns about twice as many calories.(6)
6. Tennis or pickleball
Tennis requires a decent amount of running on the court. If that works for you and your symptoms, go for it! A fun game with a friend or family member can be a great way to get outside and active during nice weather.
If tennis requires more movement than you can comfortably handle, consider pickleball instead. It’s a lot like tennis but lower impact. You still volley a ball back and forth over a net, but it doesn’t cause as much stress on your joints.(2)
Be aware, though, that while pickleball is a bit easier on your joints than tennis, it definitely gives you a full body workout and may require some downtime in between playing.(5) Playing regularly, however, will also strengthen your ankles, knees, hip joints and shoulders.(5)
7. Golfing (or mini golfing)
Golfing is gentle on the joints and helps with balance, strength and flexibility.(1) If you skip the golf cart and walk, you’ll get even more of a workout. If hitting up a large golf course isn’t your thing or sounds too difficult for finding bathroom access, consider mini golfing, which still gives you the workout of golfing on a smaller scale and is incredibly fun to do with your family. Even better, mini golf is usually pretty budget friendly and bathrooms are almost always close by!
Getting outdoors and active in the summer doesn’t have to involve sports. Gardening is a great way to be outdoors, get some activity AND result in either a beautiful lawn (think of all those gorgeous flowers) or fresh produce you can enjoy.
One of the nice things about gardening for IC patients is that it keeps you close to your house, so you can easily pop in for bathroom breaks whenever you need to.
Be careful with carrying heavy bags of soil when gardening, though, and causing more pain. However, other gardening activities, like raking and watering, can burn 150 to 300 calories in only 30 minutes!(1)
Being in a boat on the water or even on the shoreline or a dock is great for the soul and perfect for fishing during warm weather. (Of course, you can fish year-round as well if you are so inclined!) Fishing requires strength and engages your back, shoulders and arms as you are reeling and casting.(7) It also can be good cardiovascular exercise as you move from spot to spot to find the right location for catching fish.(7)
Fishing has other bonuses as well. It can be a great way to bond with family members or friends, promotes relaxation (it’s been shown to lower blood pressure and decrease anxiety) and helps with your balance.(7)
Geocaching is like a modern-day treasure hunt. Basically, people have hidden containers in spots all over the world (even on top of Mt. Everest!). When they hide the containers (of varying sizes), they input its GPS location into a database.
With your own GPS (which is built in to all smart phones) and a geocaching app, you can find start tracking down geocaches.(8) Usually there are a couple of hints to help you find the geocache container, because they are hidden out of sight. The geocaches are ranked based on their size and difficulty of accessing them.
There are a surprising number of geocaches hidden around throughout public places, even in small towns! They are a great excuse to get outside and hunt down treasure. Some of the larger containers have little trinkets you can take (it’s nice to leave something if you take something). All of them should have a log sheet where you can write your name and the date you visited, so be sure to bring along a writing utensil. It’s a great way to get outside, is usually low impact (unless you decide to go for the one on Mt. Everest!) and engages your brain as well as you figure out clues and go on the hunt.
And since most geocaches are on public property, chances are a bathroom can be found nearby. Most likely, you will also drive to different locations which would allow you a chance for a bathroom break as well.
11. Nature photography
Getting out into nature to take pictures of what you see can be a great activity during nice weather. You can go alone or with others. You don’t have to have an elaborate camera or be a professional photographer. Just your smart phone camera is enough to take photos of the things you see that are beautiful or interesting.
If you want to make it a bit of a challenge, try a photography scavenger hunt where you have a list of items you need to find and photograph.(9) You can find all sorts of ideas for photography scavenger hunts in all sorts of locations.
12. Produce picking
Summertime and into autumn are great times to go produce picking throughout most of the country. Find a local farm that offers an option to pick your own fruit or vegetables and go collect some goodies. You can even pick produce you may not be able to have and share it with friends and family. The point is to get out, have fun and do something.
Most farms that offer the chance to pick produce also have small shops or other facilities set up that include restrooms, which is ideal for IC patients as well.
13. Outdoor festivals and concerts
Warm weather seasons are rife with outdoor activities that are oftentimes free and good excuses to be out and about. Most towns and cities have at least one festival if not more throughout warm months. And outdoor concerts are also fun in the summertime. Bring along your own IC friendly snacks if you’re worried about finding something you can have.
Another bonus to outdoor festivals and concerts is that they are designed to accommodate large groups of people, which means bathrooms will be accessible.
Picnics are pretty low impact indeed! And you can have the anywhere. Pack a cooler or picnic basket with your favorite IC friendly foods and head to your backyard, a park or a lake. You can sit on a blanket or look for picnic tables in parks to be more comfortable. Even better, pair a picnic with one of the other outdoor activities. A peanut butter sandwich and pretzel sticks taste suddenly better when eaten outside.
It sounds a bit like the “Hunger Games,” but archery is actually a good way to get an upper body workout without stressing your pelvis. Along with building upper body strength, archery also improves your focus and hand-eye coordination.(10) If you haven’t used a bow and arrow before, consider archery lessons or at least seek out a friend with experience who can guide you.
16. Star gazing
If hot summer days get to you, head outside once the sun sets for some star gazing. Even the hottest of days are cooler at night. You can take a walk up a hill to get closer to the sky and away from city lights.(11) Check online to find out when special things are occurring in the sky. The Perseid Meteor Shower, for example, usually occurs in July and August.(10)
17. Outdoor yoga or Pilates
Yoga and Pilates are great low-impact exercises that helps your body be more flexible, strengthens joints and can help increase balance and coordination.(2) They can be great ways to loosen up tight muscles. Taking your regular stretching outdoors can be a great way to shake things up in the summer and help you get out of the house. Even better, you can decide when is best for you and just go to your backyard so you are also still near your bathroom.
Another outdoor yoga option is stand-up paddle board (SUP) yoga.(5) It involves standing on a paddle board in the water and doing yoga poses, which definitely takes more balance and control than yoga on dry ground. It is more for an intermediate skill set, but could be a fun way to shake up your yoga routine and get out of your comfort zone.(5)
Of course, dancing can be done inside. And you can take dancing lessons. But even just playing music and dancing around your backyard can be a good way to get outside and get moving. Or let go of your inhibitions and dance at an outdoor music festival. Dancing is good in that you control how much you want to move. You can do gentle dance movements or more intense, stronger ones.(2) Either way, you’re getting your body moving and having fun in the process.
19. Paddle boarding
Water sports really are great in warm weather, and paddle boarding is another one that is good for working out your body while also being easy on your bladder. (See the notes on swimming above for tips on how to safely be in water to not negatively impact your IC symptoms.)
Paddle boarding increases your core strength as you stay balanced on the board, helps improve your joint stability and strengthens your arms, legs, back and shoulders.(12)
Whether in a tent, camper or RV, camping is a great way to enjoy the outdoors in a way that you can control. If you are up to camping at a site where you have to hike to, great. If staying in a campground with plenty of bathroom facilities available works better for you, also great. You can pick your comfort level (or push yourself to get a bit out of your comfort level) and go for it. Camping is the ultimate way to enjoy being outdoors in the summer.
If you are worried about bathroom access, travel johns would also work really well with camping to avoid having to walk to the bathroom too many times in the night.(3)
- ProOrtho. 7 Low-Impact Outdoor Activities to Help You Stay Fit. July 3, 2018.
- Adam. 8 Low-Impact Summer Activities for Seniors. Ashley Manor Senior Living. May 14, 2018.
- IC Network. Travel John 3-Pack.
- Langley J. Bicycle Seats Explained.
- Mansour S. 5 Summer Workouts that Don’t Feel Like Work. NBC News. June 9, 2019.
- Harvard Medical School. Calories burned in 30 minutes for people of three different weights. Harvard Health Publishing. Updated Aug. 13, 2018.
- Health Fitness Revolution. Top 10 Health Benefits of Fishing. Oct. 5, 2016.
- Fisher T. The 5 Best Geocaching Apps. Lifewire. Updated July 8, 2019.
- Pepper S. 20 Photo Scavenger Hunt Ideas. Scavenger Hunt. May 11, 2013.
- NFFUSA. Top 5 Health Benefits of Archery. Sept. 9, 2015.
- American Heart Association. 25 Ways to Move More During Summer. Heart.org. Updated July 16, 2018.
- Pumped Up SUP. The Top 5 Benefits of Stand Up Paddle Boarding.