Everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time. And everybody poops — or at least they try to. It may not be the most elegant conversation topic, but constipation is the number one digestive complaint in America, resulting in over 2 million doctors visits annually. Constipation is defined as fewer than three bowel movements in a week, but can also refer to hard-to-pass stool. Our use of antibiotics is a contributor, as is the lack of fiber in many diets — even traveling away from home can cause it. Hydration impacts gastrointestinal health, so making sure we are getting enough liquid to lubricate the process is a big help. If you aren't interested in over-the-counter remedies and prefer a natural approach, did you know that exercise is a key element to assisting your digestive tract to work efficiently? Here are three tools you can pull from your fitness box to make sure your eliminations are on track.
1. Move It Out
One of the best ways to encourage your GI tract is to lace up your shoes and start walking, jogging, or running. Ever heard of runner's trots? The inconvenient fast-moving bowel movement phenomenon experienced by 20 percent to 50 percent of runners could work to your advantage. Any kind of physical movement that causes your internal organs to bump and squish into each other actually provides some much needed tissue stimulation. Just make sure you are well hydrated, have waited at least an hour since you ate (so the blood can leave your stomach and go to your muscles), and are not stranded out in the middle of nowhere when nature calls. Don't like running? Try any steady-state cardio that will get your heart rate up and your nerve endings firing: swimming, biking, or rowing are all good alternatives.
2. Twist It Out
Yoga, yoga, yoga . . . is there anything it can't do? Yoga is your friend when it comes to digestive ailments. Simple poses such as seated or standing forward folds, children's pose, and any variety of twist will activate your digestive tract by putting alternating pressure and relief on your stomach and intestines — think of it like a self-administered internal massage. Bloating is a common accompaniment to constipation, so try this sequence for additional relief. Keep in mind that you are likely to pass that trapped gas at some stage in the process, so maybe try this detox flow at home instead of your local yoga studio if you embarrass easily.
3. Chill It Out
We don't usually talk about it, but stress has a big time impact on the functionality of many of our body's systems. When we have anxiety, stress, or depression, we can experience negative effects in our body, including our ability to eliminate waste. Finding time to meditate, doing breathing exercises, or taking time for a quiet walk to reset our minds will help our body relax, decrease the amount of stress hormone coursing around, and allow for natural processes to take place. Try this five-minute meditation to get started, and work your way up to 20 to 30 minutes of mindful peace and quiet daily. Your body, mind, and colon will thank you!