Yes, we all do it, but that doesn’t make the subject any less taboo. People rarely talk about it, yet research shows that 74 percent of Americans are living with problems with it. If you haven’t guessed it by now, we’re talking about poop.
We know that the word probably makes you cringe. It’s something that you don’t often discuss with others, but your digestive health is one of the major keys to your health. If you’re not eliminating properly, it’s impossible for you to feel your best. Digestive issues can vary, but one of the most prevalent is constipation – a complaint that affects up to 42 million Americans.
Constipation comes in different forms. You may have hard stools, or have to strain during bowel movements. You may not be able to go at all. The Mayo Clinic defines constipation as having fewer than 3 bowel movements per week, but in theory, a healthy digestive system allows you to eliminate at least after every meal – up to 3 times per day.
There are many things that can cause one to feel constipated – a low-fiber diet, lack of exercise, not drinking enough water. For many of you, the issue is probably a combination of all of the above. We know it’s hard to feel your best when you’re stopped up, so we put together this list of things that you can do to get things moving again.
Tip 1: Eat a diet high in fiber. Fiber helps the body form a soft, bulky stools that are easier to pass. If your diet is lacking in fiber right now, increase your intake gradually. It takes time for your body to get used to excess fiber, and if you increase your intake too quickly, it can result in other digestive complaints like painful bloating and gas. Aim for a goal of 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories you eat. If you’re on a 1,500 calorie diet, this means you need 21 grams of fiber each day. Choose whole-grains, fresh fruits, dried fruits, beans, bran cereals and vegetables. Avoid white flour, processed foods, cheese, meat and dairy, which are lacking in fiber and can actually contribute to constipation.
Tip 2: Make sure you’re drinking enough fluids, which help soften the stool. Drink at least 64 ounces of water per day and stay away from soda and fruit juices, which contain large amounts of sugar and can contribute to weight gain. If you drink caffeinated beverages, like tea or coffee, add an extra cup of water for every caffeinated drink.
Tip 3: Exercise regularly. You may not associate exercise with your bowels, but exercise helps to stimulate intestinal activity, making it easier for the stool to move through the digestive system. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise, like walking, biking, swimming, or stair climbing, per day.
Tip 4: Never ignore the urge for a bowel movement. We know that life gets busy and sometimes you may feel like you have to go at an inopportune time, but do your best to go when you feel like you have to go. Ignoring the urge to pass a bowel movement contributes to constipation so when you feel that urge, find a restroom right away.
Tip 5: Set aside time for bathroom use. Giving yourself enough time to pass a bowel movement is an important factor in alleviating constipation. Train your body to use the restroom at approximately the same time every day by giving yourself some time in the bathroom at certain hours. Following a set schedule can help regulate the body’s digestive cycle.
Tip 6: Take probiotics. Probiotics help balance the ratio of bacteria in your gut, regulating your digestive system and boosting your immune system. All probiotics are not created equal, though, so make sure you choose a high-quality probiotic.
Caution: Use laxatives only as a last resort. While laxatives may provide some immediate relief, the results are temporary and they are not without side effects. Laxatives can be habit-forming and overuse may decrease the body’s ability to have an unassisted bowel movement. If you must use a laxative, choose bulk-forming laxatives, rather than stimulant laxatives, which work by adding water and bulk to the stool so that they can pass more easily through your digestive system.