7 Tips For Improving Bowel Habit

Not every person has the ideal bowel habit which is as regular as clockwork. It is inconvenient to have to pass stool at an unexpected time, experience loose watery stool or pass very hard stool infrequently. These are signs of poor bowel habit. It is important to first see a doctor to find out if these disturbances may be due to any bowel diseases, be it acute of chronic. If there is no apparent bowel abnormality then you should look at various ways to improve your bowel habit. The reality is that good bowel habit is frequent, regular and somewhat predictable bowel movements with the passage of soft and firm stool that is easily evacuated. If your bowel habit is not as “picture perfect” as this, then consider these tips for better bowel habit.

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Drink 8 Glasses of Water

One of the main reasons for constipation is insufficient water intake during the course of the day. Adults need to consume around 2 to 3 liters (about 65 to 100 ounces) of water daily. Water helps to soften the stool and bulk it up so that it can move more easily through the bowels. It makes passing stool easier as it is neither very hard nor dry. Sticking to the “eight glasses of water per day” rule may be more convenient than measuring liters and ounces, but it is important that the glass size is adequate. Ideally you should use a glass that can hold at least 250mL (about 8.5 ounces) of water. Therefore the rule should be “drink at least eight 8oz glasses of water per day” to improve bowel habit.

Eat High Fiber Foods

Fiber adds bulk to the bowel contents since it cannot be digested and absorbed. Instead the fiber remains in the bowels. Insoluble fiber absorbs water and increases in size. This distends the bowels which in turn stimulates its muscles to contract and move the contents along. Fiber also makes the stool more firm and solid in people who are experiencing watery stools. For these reasons, high fiber foods are recommended for people experiencing problems with bowel habit. It can  be sourced from foods that naturally rich in fiber or can be taken as a supplement. Here is a list of high fiber foods.

Pass Stool At The Same Time

One of the key factors in developing good bowel habit is to train the bowels. Ideally bowel training should be done early in life. But for various reasons it may be lost by adolescence of adulthood. Bowel training in the medical sense involves lubricating the anus among other processes to facilitate a bowel movement. However, this may not always be necessary. Simply sitting on the toilet everyday around the same time and attempting to pass stool will eventually regulate bowel habit.

It is important not to strain too forcefully as it may cause complications. It takes several days to weeks to train the bowels in this way. Eventually bowel habit becomes almost like clockwork. Bowel training in this manner should be done in the morning and night as these are convenient times to defecate on a daily basis.

Exercise To Stimulate Bowels

Physical activity stimulates the movement of foods and wastes through the bowels. Therefore people who are sedentary tend to have problems with bowel movements. Regular daily activity may be sufficient but if you are experiencing problems with bowel habit, especially constipation, then you should look at starting an exercise program.

Always speak to your doctor before starting any exercise program but even mild physical activity can be helpful. Try walking a block or two, gently do a few ab crunches and even stretching exercise may be helpful in stimulating the bowels. If you feel the urge to defecate but it seems too mild to actually have a proper bowel movement, then try to exercise for a few minutes before sitting on the toilet.

Isometric Ab Exercises

Contracting any skeletal muscle means movement of a corresponding body part. However, with isometric exercises the muscle contracts without corresponding movement of the part of the body. Isometric abdominal exercises  can be useful in increasing the pressure within the abdomen. This can help stimulate bowel movements in much the same way as exercising.

Isometric abdominal exercises can be done throughout most of the day without having to take time off to exercises. Simply contract the abdominal muscles like you are “sucking in your tummy” and hold it in place for as long as possible. Keep repeating these contractions at regular periods if you are unable to hold the position throughout the day.

Use Probiotics Regularly

Good bowel habit is largely dependent on bowel health. The micro-environment within the bowels is complex and changing but a key component of bowel health is the microbes within it. These bacteria and some fungi are collectively referred to as the normal intestinal flora. It does not cause any disease and the population of these microbes are kept in check by each other. The normal intestinal flora help with bowel health in a number of ways but when disturbed it can cause disturbances that is seen as changes in bowel habit.

Therefore using probiotics regularly can be helpful. Probiotics restore the “good bowel bacteria” when destroyed and helps keep it constant. Live culture yogurt is one type of natural probiotic but it may not be suitable for people who have problems with dairy. If you are experiencing changes in bowel habit after a bout of the stomach flu or using antibiotics, then you should speak to your doctor about probiotic supplements on the market.

Foods That Irritate The Bowel

Certain foods, like hot chilli and spicy foods, irritate the bowels in most people. There are individual foods that affect different people in different ways. Some foods lead to diarrhea while others may cause constipation. It is important to identify foods that irritate your bowels and avoid it as far as possible.

Dairy, wheat, fructose (fruit sugar) and sorbitol (found in sugar free gum) are some of the foods and drinks that can be an irritant mainly because some people cannot digest or absorb it. However, even if you have not been diagnosed with a food intolerance or malabsorption syndrome, try to keep a food diary to identify the foods that are a problem for you specifically.

Read more on lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance and fructose malabsorption.

Control Body Weight

People who are severely underweight, overweight or obese tend to experience different bowel problems. It is not the body weight itself that is a problem but rather the causes and consequences of these abnormalities in body weight. Eating too little or infrequently will cause you to lose weight but there is insufficient food and bulk to maintain a regular habit.

Similarly eating excessively will cause you to gain weight and contribute to more frequent bowel movements. However, it is not just about the regularity of bowel habit. Different foods and a lack of exercise that are the main reasons for abnormalities in body weight have a host of different effects on the bowels which affects regular bowel habit.

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