How To Improve Digestive Health & Avoid Constipation and Bloating
Movement is like an injection of oxygen, energy and flow to the body. Which is why it is so important for the digestive system. Put simply if you do not move the body, you are more likely to have slow and stagnant digestive function.
When I talk about movement I refer to organized exercise and random acts of activity during the day. Healthy bowel movements are yours for the taking by simply implementing mild-to-moderate intensity exercises.
How Does Movement/ Exercise Affect Bowel Movements?
Muscles need to be exercised in order to stay in shape and function well. The bowels are muscles that need to be exercised. If you don’t use it you lose it.
- Exercise stimulates the lymph nodes which carry dead blood cells, antibodies and cellular decay from the body through poop.
- Exercises that work the abdomen and spine help maintain good bowel tone, keeping the intestines in their proper place, providing structure for them to work against, and strengthening muscles within the digestive tract.
- Exercise accelerates breathing and heart rate which helps stimulate peristalsis, the natural contraction of intestinal muscles that help move poo out quickly.
- Exercise increases transit time which decreases the time it takes for food to move through the large intestine. This limits the amount of water absorbed from the stool (poo) preventing hard and dry stools that are difficult to pass.
- Lack of movement as a result of aging or spinal cord injury can cause impaction of poo in the colon due to a reduction in colonic mass movements and poor use of abdominal muscles to assist in elimination.
Interesting fact - daily moderate exercise was associated with a 44% reduction in risk of constipation in women. In a study done with Hong Kong adolescents, constipation was consistently more common in inactive and sedentary students.
Yin Yoga Loves Digestion, Too
Yin Yoga is a slow yoga practice. Poses are typically held anywhere from three to ten minutes. Sometimes even twenty. Yin yoga works on and nourishes the deeper, more hidden tissues, organs, ligaments, fascia, joints and bones.
Yoga can be a fabulous tool to unwind and detach from stress. In fact yoga has been found to significantly increase gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels in the brain, aka “the chilled” amino acid. GABA is a neurotransmitter (brain chemical) that works directly on the brain to calm the mind and enhance mood. It does this by regulating noradrenaline, dopamine and serotonin.
GABA functions as a brake on the neural circuitry during stress, relaxing the muscles, slowing heart rate and breath, and reduces anxiety, tension and insomnia. If, like me, stress and anxiety trigger constipation for you, yin is your perfect antidote. On the physical level Yin yoga supports, nourishes and improves the health of the digestive organs such as the intestines, stomach, spleen, liver and gall bladder.
In a nutshell, yoga encompasses posture, breathing and meditation to a degree which go a long way to encourage a happy nervous system, mood and improved circulation in and around the intestines.
Other Forms Of Exercise That Support Digestive Function Are:
- Jogging/ Running
- Any form of yoga
- Anything that exercises the core and spine
- Random acts of movement throughout the day
How To Easily Get More Movement Throughout Your Day
- Do something you enjoy like yoga, dancing, swimming, cycling, gardening, walking, playing sports with friends.
- Do as the centenarians do. The centenarians who live in the Blue Zones, areas of the world where people commonly live beyond the age of 100, enjoy impromptu daily activity. They walk almost everywhere and use their hands for chores instead of household power appliances such as egg beaters, cake mixers and can openers. Use your hands and simple utensils rather than power appliances so that you put a bit of grunt and exertion into your movements, and get walking whenever you can. Listen to the following Ted Talk to learn more about living beyond 100 and Blue Zones .
- Use a standing desk. Alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day and when at work. We are designed to be physically active. Sitting affects our metabolic function, weakens the bones, affects insulin action, weight management and much more. If you don’t have access to a standing desk, simply stand up for around two minutes every thirty to forty-five minutes.
- Take walking meetings or make that important phone call while walking around the block, house, office, building or in a park.
- Plan your exercise. Schedule exercise into your day planner. If your four days of 40-minute exercise is scheduled you're more likely to do it.
- Change it up. If you get bored easily, change your routine. Try different environments and activities regularly. An added bonus is that you will exercise different muscle groups.
- Exercise with friends. Having people to exercise with will keep you motivated. If someone is counting on you to show up you're less likely to buy into your excuses. I walk with friends a couple of times a week. It is a great way to commit, catch up, discuss work/life and we are now challenging ourselves to run at intervals.
- Listen to audiobooks, podcasts or music while exercising. Take the opportunity to learn and/or unwind.
- Join a group - fitness class, bootcamp, get a personal trainer or movement specialist or embark on a fitness / yoga challenge If you feel like you need more help to get and stay motivated.