There are a number of sensible lifestyle habits that can help avoid constipation. These include:
- Drink eight 8-ounce glasses of liquid, especially water, each day
- Eat a diet high in fiber, including fruits and vegetables
- Enjoy your meals in a leisurely manner
- Get sufficient exercise
- Establish a regular time for going to the bathroom
- Take all the time you need for a comfortable elimination
- When you feel the urge to move your bowels, don’t put it off
- Get adequate rest and relaxation
Fluids can help
Drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of liquids – especially water – is highly recommended to help avoid constipation. Try to avoid too much of caffeine-containing beverages such as coffee, tea, or cola drinks. They can cause you to urinate more, which means your body is eliminating much needed fluids. Contrary to what you might think, drinking water does not cause bloating or weight gain. Without water the body can’t get rid of waste through urine and stools.
Diet is important
Hurried and irregular meals eaten on the run, as well as weight-loss diets, can cause or aggravate constipation. So it’s important to relax and enjoy your meals in a leisurely manner. Family mealtimes are probably not the best times to talk about subjects that make family members tense and nervous, such as doing homework, who scratched the car, or the latest credit-card bill.
Eating a low-fiber diet also causes constipation. Vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole-grain breads and cereals contain fiber, whereas meats, dairy products, eggs and most desserts have no fiber.
If you decide to start eating more high-fiber foods, be sure to increase your fiber intake slowly in order to avoid bloating, gas or unnecessary stomach upset. And remember that it usually takes a few days before you will feel any positive effects.
What is dietary fiber and why is it so important?
Dietary fiber is the portion of food that is not digested and that is not completely broken down in the stomach. Oat bran and wheat bran are well-known for their dietary fiber. But the tough or “fibrous” portions of some meats are not dietary fiber.
Fiber is not one substance, but a mixture of three groups of substances: cellulose, lignin, and pentose. Cellulose and lignin do not dissolve in water, though they can absorb several times their weight in water, much the way a sponge does. These dietary fibers predominate in grain.
Pentose includes pectin – the agent which causes jams and jellies to “set” – and gums, which are present in certain beans. Pectin and gums are water-soluble and can leach out into cooking water. Pectin is found in bananas, oranges, apples, potatoes, cabbage, carrots, and grapes. Gums are in oatmeal, sesame seeds (cooked or baked), beans, and bulk laxatives.
One of fiber’s most important functions is to bind water in the intestine. This action prevents the water from being over-absorbed from the large bowel and ensures that the fecal content of the large bowel is both bulky and soft. Bulky waste moves through the bowel more quickly than smaller, concentrated waste. In this form, passage through the intestine is not delayed.
Moderate exercise is good for digestion. Exercise helps strengthen stomach muscles so they can do their job properly. Aside from helping constipation, exercise can make you feel better, give you more energy, and may encourage better dietary habits. Of course, before beginning any new exercise routine, check with your physician.
It’s generally recommended to exercise at least three times a week, steadily for 20 to 30 minutes, enough to raise your heart rate. Start gradually and work up to a full workout. Be sure to include proper warm-up stretches – to warm up muscles and help them stretch – and a cool-down period, as well. As you probably know, putting yourself through a tough workout without building up to it could result in injuries.
Walking is an excellent way to start any exercise program, including proper stretching. You can walk outside, or in winter consider walking inside a gym or large shopping mall. You may also consider consulting a fitness expert or joining a fitness center. The instructors will help you set up an exercise schedule and keep you motivated. Most health clubs will also do a fitness test to help assess your fitness level. Getting more exercise should become a normal and enjoyable part of your life that fits your weekly routine and your lifestyle.
Good Health Summary
Remember these points about good health habits:
- Eat plenty of fiber (20 to 35 grams) daily
- Eat fruit, vegetables, and high-fiber cereals and breads
- Relax and enjoy your meals
- Drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily
- Establish a regular time to go to the bathroom and don’t ignore the urge to go
- Exercise regularly
- For occasional constipation, choose a natural vegetable laxative, such as Senokot® Laxatives