Constipation is a widespread problem among children and adults. Although there are many known causes of constipation, it can also occur for no clearly identifiable reason in which case it is referred to as idiopathic constipation. Diet plays a major role in treating and managing constipation but physical activity is also helpful. Some exercises may be more effective specifically for constipation.
Does Exercise Help Bowel Habit?
It is important to understand that the longer stool remains in the bowels, the more water is absorbed from the feces. This makes the feces dry and hard. Therefore it is important for stool to move at a reasonable rate through the colon. Movement throughout the gut is made possible by the tiny muscles in the gut wall that contract and relax. Exercise can help with this movement.
Any type of physical activity can be helpful for bowel habit. In fact 20 to 30 minutes of exercise daily is recommended for treating constipation, alongside increasing fiber intake and drinking plenty of water. Movement assist with the transit of stool through the colon. However, there are also specific exercises that may be of greater benefit for treating and managing constipation.
Exercise has a host of benefits beyond bowel regularity. It is important to note that exercise has to be regular to be effective for constipation. While a single workout may stimulate a bowel movement, the goal is to restore bowel regularity. This regular exercise may also help with weight management which can have an added benefit since constipation is more common in obese people.
Types of Exercise for Constipation
There are various types of exercise that may help with constipation. Always consult with a doctor before starting with any exercise program. Start slowly doing the exercise for a few minutes at a time and gradually increasing the duration over successive days. Stop physical activity if there is any shortness of breath, chest pain or dizziness and seek medical attention.
Exercise for managing constipation does not require specialized equipment or attending a gym. Even simply daily physical activities help but a dedicated time should be set aside for exercise. The choice of exercise should be made carefully after speaking to a doctor and while maintaining increased water and fiber intake. Do not settle for just one type of exercise during a workout. Combining different exercises can be help for a full body workout.
Brisk walking is a simple exercise that can be effective for constipation. Start with a pace that is comfortable to maintain for at least 15 to 20 minutes at a time. If there is no suitable location to walk then walking on the spot will suffice. The key is to generate movement and maintain the motion for a set period of time. Avoid exercise, even brisk walking, immediately after a meal.
More strenuous aerobic exercises are also beneficial. Jogging and running are some of the other options but for a low impact exercise, swimming is ideal. It is a total body workout without the impact of running. Swimming also has many of the same benefits as abdominal exercises as well. This helps to increase pressure within the abdomen which may also help to stimulate bowel movements.
Low intensity workouts like stretching exercises and yoga can also be useful as a bowel movement exercise. Once again time is a factor and these workouts should extend for at least 20 minutes. Stretching should be the part of any pre-workout, especially when undertaking strenuous exercises like running and swimming. It reduces the risk of muscle and tendon strain or ligament sprain.
Squatting may seem like an unlikely exercise for constipation but it has distinct benefits. Apart from the movement factor, the squatting position can also help to relive pressure on the rectum. The ligaments around the rectum causes a kink to prevent stool from being expelled. Squatting reduces the pressure by the ligaments. This is one of the reasons that the squatting position is encouraged during defecation for people with constipation.
Abdominal exercise like crunches or sit ups (curl ups) have distinct effects for constipation. It should be done with care to prevent back strain. Apart from movement, abdominal exercises also increase the pressure within the abdomen. This may be helpful to stimulate a bowel movement. It is not uncommon to feel the urge to pass stool after an abdominal workout.
Bowel Movement Exercise Tips
Exercise can be beneficial but dietary fiber and water intake should not be ignored. Laxative use is also helpful but it should not be used indefinitely. Instead laxative use should be limited to a few days to trigger a bowel movement and help restore bowel habit. The following tips can be helpful in managing constipation with exercise.
- Step up exercise gradually. People who are otherwise sedentary should start with 5 minute sessions daily before increasing workout time by 5 minutes every few days.
- Maintain a regular exercise time. Since exercise can stimulate a bowel movements, sometimes immediately after the workout, timing can help to restore a regular bowel habit.
- Alternate exercises. While this is not necessary, alternating exercises can help to minimize the risk of repetitive stress injuries and reduce boredom.
- Ensure adequate fluid intake. Apart from sufficient water intake on a daily basis, proper hydration during and after a workout is particularly important as fluid is lost during exercise.
- Take advantage of urging during exercise. Although a workout should not be otherwise interrupted, do not ignore the urge to pass stool while exercising. Rather stop the workout and attempt to pass stool once the urge arises.
- Massage the abdomen gently. When urging starts after a workout, gently massing the abdomen can help to stimulate a bowel movement. Opt for this gentle massage rather than pushing beyond the maximum workout time to trigger defecation.
- Use a squatting platform. Squatting platforms or steps can be useful to assume a more natural position for defecation with a conventional Western-style toilet.
- Get professional advice. Always speak to a doctor about the benefits of exercise for improving bowel habit. Do not stop any prescribed medication without a doctor’s approval.