Anyone who has ever been constipated knows how miserable this problem can be. Whether stools are hard, lumpy and painful to pass or seem rarely to make an appearance at all, irregular bowel habits can cause suffering and concern for men and women alike.
There are several common causes of constipation, but one major predisposing factor is inactivity. During the COVID 19 pandemic, with shelter in place orders keeping many of us indoors, now is a time when you might find your bowels becoming particularly sluggish. This is in part because the movement of stool through your bowels requires good muscle tone in the gastrointestinal tract, and muscles become weaker with inactivity.
The good news is that exercise can help. Aerobic exercise stimulates natural contractions of muscles in your gut, speeding the movement of waste through the system. After the small intestine absorbs nutrients from your food, the large intestine, or colon, works on the remaining digestive contents, extracting water and rendering stool more solid, much as a trash compactor might package waste. The faster the undigested products move through the system, the less water is pulled out, ultimately leaving stool softer and easier to expel.
Simply getting up and off the couch can help with constipation. Regularly walking up to 15 minutes a day can make a difference, especially if you are also drinking plenty of fluids and eating high fiber foods. Stretching and yoga, particularly twisting motions, can also promote passage of stool through the bowels, easing discomfort or bloat.
While exercise is critical for healthy bowel habits, it is not the only factor impacting regularity. If you are having pain with constipation, experiencing any rectal bleeding, or losing weight, or if symptoms are new, it is important to discuss your constipation with a medical provider in case something more serious is going on. To schedule a telehealth visit with one of Gotham Gastroenterology’s constipation experts, please click here.