Can Exercise Help Constipation?

B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional

Constipation – pardon the pun – stinks  If you have ever dealt with this painful condition, then you know exactly what I mean.  Don't worry, you're not alone in this struggle.  Over four million Americans have frequent constipation, and the issue accounts for 2.5 million visits to a physician.

To help prevent becoming one of these statistics and treat constipation if you are already dealing with it, exercise is key.  You don't have to run a marathon, take a "boot camp" class or sign up for hours of CrossFit to get the benefits of exercise.  As little as 10-20 minutes of brisk exercise can loosen your system.

How does exercise help the GI tract?

When you move your body quickly, things also move through your intestines faster.  When your intestines move slowly, the body absorbs more and more water from the stool, causing it to be rock hard.  Exercising eliminates that slow transit time, allowing the stool to remain soft as long as there is adequate water available.

Exercise also improves blood flow to the digestive tract.   This increase in blood flow provides for stronger contractions known as peristalsis.  Peristalsis is the movement of the gut muscles that push the food and eventually stool through the GI tract in a timely manner.

Improved blood flow also provides more digestive enzymes to the gut.  Digestive enzymes are essential to proper digestion.  Having the proper enzymes present can help eliminate pain, gas, bloating and constipation.

When should you exercise?

The best time of day to exercise is the time of day that you are most likely do it and stick with it.  That being said, mornings are the best time if you’re trying to help constipation.  While you sleep at night, your body, including your digestive tract, slows down.  That early morning jolt of exercise helps wake everything up and get you moving (in more ways than one).

When you plan your workouts, be sure to take into account when you will be eating.  Even a small meal can divert the blood flow away from your digestion instead of where you want it to be.  If you wait at least an hour after eating, your blood flow will return to normal and will help with your workout.

What exercises are best for constipation?

The best form of exercise to eliminate constipation is aerobic exercise.  That means anything that gets your body moving, raises your heart rate and makes you sweat.  Some great choices are running, walking, bike riding, swimming or hiking.  Find an exercise you love and do it.

There are also exercises that strengthen the core muscles of the body.  Having a strong core can help you pass stool.  Some types of exercise that can strengthen your core include pelvic floor exercises, Pilates and yoga.

Extra tips

If you do not drink enough water, there is no amount of exercise that will work.  When you are exercising, be sure to replenish any water lost through sweating.

Many marathoners have experienced "runner's trot." This form of diarrhea is from over-exercising.  So be careful that you don't give yourself the opposite problem while trying to get rid of the constipation.

If you have tried all of the normal tips for getting rid of constipation and are still suffering, you need to make an appointment to speak with your doctor.  They may want to rule out other causes for constipation or provide medications to help you feel better quickly.

_Jennifer has a bachelor's degree in dietetics as well as graduate work in public health and nutrition.  She has worked with families dealing with digestive disease, asthma and food allergies for the past 12 years.  Jennifer also serves the Board of Directors for Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association (PAGER). _

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