If you feel constipated, a bowel movement is likely the only activity you want to engage in. But another kind of movement — exercise — may bring you relief. Here’s how to get things going when you’re blocked.
You already know exercise can boost your mood, keep your body at a weight that works for you, and prevent certain diseases, but you might not realize that exercise also can be the final push you need to get your bowels moving. DailyOM spoke to experts to find out what causes constipation, how you can alleviate this common but uncomfortable problem through physical activity, and the best exercises to practice — and those to avoid — when you’re feeling constipated.
What Causes Constipation?
It’s super common to get constipated. (Around one-third of older adults struggle with constipation, at least sometimes.) Signs of constipation are when you find it difficult or painful to pass stool, you’re straining on the toilet seat, or your stools are hard. Though anything from twice a day to three times a week can be considered “regular,” depending on the person, another sign of constipation is going less frequently than you typically do.
There are many reasons for constipation, says Harsh Sheth,a bariatric and GI laparoscopic surgeon who spoke with DailyOM for this article. These include the following factors.
The amount of water you consume can directly impact how easily you poop, Dr. Sheth tells us. “Dehydration can cause constipation because the body needs fluids to move waste through the digestive tract.”
Food travels from the stomach to the large intestine, part of which is the colon. Your colon absorbs a lot of water to help stool move along easily. But if you’re not getting enough water — around 2,200 milliliters (about 74 ounces) for women, or 3,000 milliliters (about 101 ounces) for men — each day, your colon will absorb fluid from stool to help other body parts lacking hydration. This drying out can cause poop to become hard and increase your risk of constipation.
Foods high in fiber, including beans, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, help keep you regular. That’s because “fiber helps draw water into bowel movements, making them easier to pass,” Sheth explains. If you’re not eating enough fiber, that may be why you’re struggling to poop comfortably.
Sheth says that medication, including certain narcotics and antidepressants, can cause constipation, so it’s worth asking your health care provider if you’ve started taking a new medication and are newly constipated.
Older people are more likely to complain of constipation. This is because our body systems operate less efficiently over time. As our systems slow down, we may start to experience weaker abdominal and pelvic floor muscles. When this happens, it can delay regular stool movement, leading to constipation.
“Irritable bowel syndrome [IBS], thyroid disorders, and diabetes can cause or contribute to constipation,” Sheth says, adding that some pregnant people find they become constipated, too, thanks to hormonal changes. Typically, a brief period of constipation isn’t something to worry about, but it’s wise to mention any changes in your bowel habits to your doctor, who might advise medication and want to rule out anything else. (And for everyone age 45 or older, it’s recommended that you get screened for colon cancer.)
Can Exercise Help Constipation?
Lalitha McSorley, owner and lead physical therapist at Brentwood Physiotherapy Calgary, explains the scientific connection between exercise and constipation: “When we exercise, our muscles contract, including the muscles of the digestive tract. This can help move stool through the colon and out of the body. Exercise also increases blood flow to the digestive system, which can help promote healthy bowel function.”
Research supports this. In a recent study, experts analyzed nine trials on the relationship between physical activity and constipation. The data revealed that exercise not only significantly improved constipation in patients, but also boosted quality of life and well-being. Another study showed that moderate daily exercise can reduce women's constipation risk by about 44 percent.
Certain yoga poses can help stimulate the digestive system and relieve constipation.
Think of exercise as one deed to fill two needs: While you get your regular fitness in, these activities will also ease your discomfort and encourage regular, stress-free poops.
What Are the Best Exercises for Constipation?
Not-too-strenuous aerobic activity that gets the blood pumping can be helpful for avoiding constipation, says Linda Khoshaba, a doctor of naturopathic medicine, fellow of the American Board of Naturopathic Endocrinology, and founder of Natural Endocrinology Specialists, though the expert adds, “just getting up and moving can aid in the management of constipation.” In addition to gentle aerobic activity, other easy movements like yoga poses, deep breathing, stretching, and cycling can make all the difference in unclogging poop.
What Are the Best Exercises for Gas and Bloating?
As if constipation isn’t bad enough, this condition often comes with the added challenges of gas and bloating. Yes, exercise can help here, too. Lynn O’Connor, chief of Colon and Rectal Surgery at Mercy Medical Center and St. Joseph Hospital in New York, explains, “Yoga poses where you’re manipulating the body and the abdominal area are very helpful for gas and bloating.” Consider movements like the spinal twist, bridge post, and cat and cow for relieving your discomfort. Dr. O’Connor also recommends cardio activities like walking, bike riding, or gentle jogging to manage gas and bloating.
What Exercises Should You Not Do if Constipated?
“While exercise can be helpful in managing constipation, it’s important to avoid exercises and activities that can exacerbate the problem,” says McSorley. Steer clear of anything that puts “excessive strain on the pelvic floor, such as heavy lifting or intense core exercises like sit-ups or crunches,” she says. “These activities can cause increased pressure in the abdomen and make constipation worse.”
Sheth recommends you skip “high-intensity activities such as [speed or distance] running and weightlifting, which can cause the body to become dehydrated.” And whatever you do, whether it’s yoga, a brisk walk, or lap swimming, the experts say it’s best to go at a moderate pace to avoid any complications.
As you work out your poop problems, try to cut back on processed and refined foods, dairy products, and caffeinated drinks, which can complicate the digestive process. Likewise, O’Connor advises limiting alcohol intake during this period because of alcohol’s diuretic properties.
5 Exercises That Can Help Constipation
McSorley suggests the following five exercises for managing constipation.
Before you get started, be sure you’re properly hydrated, avoid eating immediately before working out to reduce your risk of cramps, and, as always, speak with your doctor before beginning any new exercise regimen, O’Connor says.
Taking a brisk walk for 20 to 30 minutes a day can help stimulate bowel movements and promote healthy digestion.
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Certain yoga poses, such as twists, as well as the seated forward bend and the wind-relieving pose, can help stimulate the digestive system and relieve constipation.
Riding a stationary bike or going for a leisurely bike ride can help promote healthy bowel function. This low-impact cardio exercise has just enough movement to stimulate muscles in the abdominal area to encourage easier bowel movements without causing undue stress on your body. However, if you have hemorrhoids, bike riding isn’t advised, as it can add to your discomfort and worsen symptoms.
Swimming is a low-impact exercise that can help stimulate the digestive system and promote healthy bowel function.
Kegel exercises, which involve contracting and relaxing the pelvic floor muscles, can help improve bowel function by strengthening the muscles that control bowel movements.
Closing the Lid
In short, getting the body moving can alleviate your bathroom issues, so long as it’s done at a slow pace for easy stool movement. When you start to feel those telltale signs of blockage, options like walking, yoga, and kegels can get things going — and hopefully you’ll be back to your regular routine before long.
What Are the Best Exercises for Constipation? ›
Any form of cardio is helpful with relieving constipation. Try Zumba, jogging, water aerobics, running or even just light walking. Aim for 30 minutes of cardio daily, but if you can't fit it in at one time, try mini cardio sessions throughout the day.How do you stimulate a bowel movement quickly? ›
- Drink coffee. Regarding drinks that make you poop immediately; coffee is probably the first that comes to mind. ...
- Squat when you poop. ...
- Use a fiber supplement. ...
- Take a stimulant laxative. ...
- Take an osmotic laxative. ...
- Take a lubricant laxative. ...
- Try a stool softener. ...
- Use a suppository.
- Sit-ups or Crunches. The go-to exercises when you want to acquire 6-pack abs are sit-ups or crunches, and they can also help boost your digestive health. ...
- Yoga. Indeed, yoga is an incredible exercise that impacts your entire body. ...
- Walking. ...
- Pelvic Floor Activation. ...
Kidney 6 (KI6) is an acupressure point on the foot used to induce bowel movements. According to TCM, it can ease constipation by promoting fluid production. To use this point for acupressure: Find the KI6 point below your inner ankle bone.What side do you lay on when constipated? ›
Here's how this sleeping position helps with chronic constipation. "Although our bodies are largely symmetrical on the outside, the placement of our organs internally is largely asymmetrical. Therefore, left side sleeping aids movement of the faecal matter.What is the secret to good bowel movement? ›
Eat fruits, nuts, grains, and vegetables
In addition, it's important to eat foods with plenty of fiber. This adds bulk to your stool, which stimulates the bowels to move and propel your stool forward. Foods that contain fiber include: fruits, such as strawberries, raspberries, and apples.
- Drink more water. ...
- Eat more fiber, especially soluble, non-fermentable fiber. ...
- Exercise more. ...
- Drink coffee, especially caffeinated coffee. ...
- Take Senna, an herbal laxative. ...
- Eat probiotic foods or take probiotic supplements. ...
- Over-the-counter or prescription laxatives.
- almonds and almond milk.
- prunes, figs, apples, and bananas.
- cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and bok choy.
- flax seeds, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds.
- Exercise. Exercise can stimulate muscles in the lower part of the digestive system. ...
- Relaxation and posture. Not being able to have a bowel movement when desired can be stressful. ...
- Prunes. ...
- Senna. ...
- Kiwi fruit. ...
- Coffee. ...
- Flaxseed oil.
Abdominal massage has been used as a treatment for constipation for many years.
What is the #1 way to relieve constipation? ›
- Water does a body good. Drinking enough water helps your gastrointestinal (GI) tract create the right consistency of stool. ...
- Exercise gets things moving. ...
- Fiber combats both constipation and diarrhea. ...
- Caffeine wakes up your colon. ...
- Gentle laxatives can also help. ...
- Sugar-free gum might give you diarrhea.
Make a fist with your right hand and place it on your abdomen at hipbone level. Press firmly into your belly and slide your hand in a circular motion up toward your ribs, across your belly, down to your left hip bone, and back across the bottom of your belly. Repeat 10 times.What is the thumb trick for constipation? ›
Splinting is a technique used to relieve constipation by inserting a finger (or thumb) into the vagina. Once inserted, the finger is pressed against the back wall of the vagina to help ease the stool out. In some cases, you may feel a bulge in the back wall of the vagina where you would gently press.How can I loosen my bowel blockage at home? ›
- Take a fiber supplement. ...
- Eat foods for constipation relief. ...
- Drink a glass of water. ...
- Take a laxative stimulant. ...
- Take an osmotic laxative. ...
- Try a lubricant laxative. ...
- Use a stool softener. ...
- Try an enema.
Try natural laxatives that work fast for constipation relief, which include: aloe vera, leafy greens, chia and flax seeds, high fiber fruits, probiotic foods, and coconut water. Also make sure to drink plenty of water/fluids when consuming natural laxatives, since these work with high fiber foods to help soften stool.How long does it take for MiraLAX to work? ›
How long does it take for MiraLAX® to work? MiraLAX® generally produces a bowel movement in one to three days. Because it works naturally with the water in your body without causing harsh side effects, you do not need to worry about sudden urgency.Why can't I poop even after taking laxatives? ›
If you take laxatives too often, you could keep your body from “knowing” when it's time to have a bowel movement. Your body will be less likely to respond to the urge to go, and stool may build up in your colon or rectum.Can you take miralax everyday? ›
You can take Miralax once daily for up to a week at a time. If you need it longer than this, contact your healthcare provider. Miralax can cause common side effects like nausea, cramping, and bloating.What happens if you have severe constipation? ›
Constipation should not be ignored. If it is left untreated, serious complications may arise such as hemorrhoids, anal fissure, fecal impaction and rectal prolapse as well as other related diseases that affect to general health in a long run.What helps constipation within 30 minutes? ›
Dulcolax® Liquid Laxative works faster than MiraLAX. Dulcolax® works in as little as 30 minutes (30 minutes to 6 hours) while MiraLAX works in 1–3 days (based on product labeling).
What is the best stool softener to take daily? ›
Dulcolax® Stool Softener is a stimulant-free laxative made to relieve occasional constipation. Each tablet contains 100 mg of the #1 doctor-recommended stool softener ingredient — docusate sodium.Are bananas good for constipation? ›
“Bananas, when fully ripe, contain soluble fiber and thus can help treat constipation,” Lee says. “However, unripe, or green, bananas have high levels of resistant starch, which can be very binding and cause constipation.” Because of this, unripe bananas can be used to treat diarrhea, she notes.How do you kickstart a bowel movement? ›
Eat more fiber.
Fiber-rich foods such as whole grains, leafy vegetables and fresh fruits will add bulk to your feces and help stimulate the bowel to push food along. Because a quick addition of fiber to your diet can result in gas, bloating and cramps, it should gradually be introduced over time.
Abdominal massage treatment may help to reeducate the muscles that control bowel movements and reduce symptoms of constipation and generalized pelvic and abdominal pain. Time the massage to coincide to when you might usually move your bowels; if possible, try to do it once in the morning.Why do I feel like I have to poop but nothing comes out? ›
Tenesmus is a frequent urge to go to the bathroom without being able to go. It usually affects your bowels, but sometimes your bladder. Severe inflammation that irritates the nerves involved in pooping or peeing is often the cause. Your nerves overreact, telling your muscles that you constantly have to go.What is the best laxative for impacted stool? ›
A doctor may recommend oral laxatives, such as polyethylene glycol (MiraLax) or bisacodyl (Dulcolax). A person should take the tablet as the doctor, pharmacist, or instruction leaflet advises. Polyethylene glycol comes as a powder to dissolve in water or another drink.