Do you sometimes feel backed up? You’ve got lots of options to get your bowels moving. But with so many choices, how do you know which ones work the best? In this article, we share three top research-backed strategies for helping you to stay regular.
Spoiler alert: By changing the way you eat and drink fluids, you may change your stools – making them softer, more comfortable, and more consistent to pass. Regular exercise then really helps you get things moving. Let’s delve into the details.
What is irregularity?
Irregularity is also known as constipation. This article focuses on, occasional constipation only – something that can be caused by diet and lifestyle factors that can be corrected relatively easily.
Note: Irregularity can also be a sign of health concerns or medication side effects. If you have not had a bowel movement in three days, are experiencing bloating, stomach discomfort, nausea, vomiting, or have blood in your stool, call your doctor.
Many researchers propose that there are three key factors to keeping you regular:2
- Consuming enough fiber
- Drinking enough fluids
- Regular exercise
The good news is you can stay regular with at-home self-care and lifestyle changes. With the following three simple steps, you may support digestive regularity and well-formed stools that pass smoothly and easily.
- Consume More Fiber
Changing what you eat and drink can make a big difference fast when it comes to digestive regularity. It starts with consuming more fiber. In fact, fiber is a first-line therapy for irregularity across American, British and European health guidelines.3
In general, dietary fiber helps maintain regularity by adding weight and size to stools, making them easier to pass. It also helps to initiate and accelerate the movement of stools through the digestive system.
- Current recommendations say women should get 22-28 g of fiber per day, while men should get 28-34 g per day. On a food or dietary supplement label, fiber is presented with a daily reference value (DRV) of 28 g per day.
Here’s the problem: the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 announced a public health concern after estimating that 90 percent of women and 97 percent of men do not meet recommended fiber intakes.4
Low fiber intake has been associated with reduced stool frequency, among other symptoms of irregularity. Increasing and maintaining fiber intake, on the other hand, has been suggested to increase stool frequency.5
There are two main types of fiber, both of which help to maintain digestive regularity:
Soluble fiber: Soluble fiber absorbs fluids in the gut, forming a gel that swells up like a sponge, bulking and softening stools for easier passage. This type of fiber includes prebiotics, which are fermented by probiotics in the gut. In addition to nourishing probiotics, prebiotics support regularity indirectly by promoting contractile activity in the gut.6
Insoluble fiber: Sometimes called roughage, this type of fiber does not form a gel but does add bulk material to stools. Insoluble fiber also encourages movement through the GI tract, physically stimulating the gut lining to accelerate stool’s transit time to elimination.7
Fiber-rich fruits may be especially helpful for regularity. Top choices include apples, berries, prunes, apricots, and peaches. Much of the fiber is in the skin of these fruits. Consume them skin-on if possible. Additional fiber-rich foods to consider for constipation include vegetables like carrots, casava root, peas, broccoli, and greens; as well as whole grains and lentils.
Fiber supplements are another option for increasing intake. These supplements do not always supply the antioxidants and other phytonutrients of fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans. But fiber supplements do offer convenience and comfort advantages, especially as gummy supplements that taste good and are easy to take.
Fiber supplements, especially those made from psyllium husk, may also offer research-backed support for digestive regularity.
- In one meta-analysis of 16 clinical trials including 1,250+ participants, researchers reported that fiber supplementation is effective at improving occasional constipation symptoms. Researchers highlighted psyllium fiber in particular, suggesting optimal intake for supporting regularity appears to be 10+ g of psyllium per day for a duration of at least 4 weeks.8
Fiber supplements may include a combination of prebiotic and probiotic ingredients to take advantage of their natural synergy. These formulas supply both beneficial bacteria and the nourishment they need to grow into a robust microbiome colony.
Whether you increase fiber intake via foods, supplements or a combination of the two, it is always a good idea to gradually introduce fiber into your dietary regimen in order to minimize digestive side effects. And follow our next tip to make fiber work even better.
– Shop All Fiber Supplements –
- Increase Fluid Intake
Researchers have linked lower fluid intake to occasional constipation.9 Sufficient fluid intake is required for fiber to work to maximum effect. In the colon, soluble fiber must absorb hydration in order to form bulky, soft and easy-to-pass stools.
Adequate fluid intake is also considered important for maintaining bowel motility, which refers to the muscle contractions that move stools through the digestive tract; it also helps reduce the risk of fecal impaction.10
So what’s adequate fluid intake? Current recommendations are generally in the range of drinking 8 to 10 cups of water every day. However, data from the CDC shows that the average adult only consumes about 5.5 cups of water per day.11
Simply adding a couple of glasses of water to your daily routine may promote digestive regularity. But that’s just the beginning. Drinking enough water also helps mental clarity, kidney health, healthy weight management, joint comfort and more.
To make the 8-10 cups of water target a little easier to hit, the CDC advises carrying a water bottle throughout the day, selecting water over sugary drinks, and serving water with a lemon or lime wedge to add flavor and variety.
Our next tip has another point to keep in mind: If you’re exercising and sweating, you need higher intake of fluids, too.
- Exercise Regularly
Scientists across universities, agencies and governments agree that physical inactivity is one of the most common causes of occasional constipation.
Some researchers suggest starting an exercise regimen may help by addressing low motility, which is closely linked to constipation. In low motility, stool progress through the digestive system becomes slow, leading to digestive stagnation. Exercise may help because the colon responds to movement with increased motility.
- In one meta-analysis of 9 clinical trials involving 680 people, researchers reported that exercise – including low-impact activities like walking and Qi Gong – had significant benefits for promoting regularity12
- In another study, researchers reported that physical activity – in the form of a brisk 30-minute walk and 11-minute aerobic routine every day – appears to improve transit time of stool through the colon while supporting healthy digestive regularity.13
Exercise doesn’t have to be intense to help, but it does have to be regular. The National Institutes of Health self-care guidelines for irregularity suggest engaging in activity, such as walking or swimming, at least three or four times per week.
Tip: For the sake of your stomach health, take care with what you take for muscle aches. Consider soothing, gut-friendly herbs like turmeric and ginger for occasional post-exercise discomfort.
Let’s clear up the confusion about occasional constipation. Staying regular doesn’t have to send you running for laxatives, complex procedures or harsh remedies. With simple self-care and lifestyle changes, you can help yourself to keep things moving and smoothly.
This article outlines three of the best evidence-backed, first-line interventions for promoting regularity. But you don’t have to stop there. Other options include bowel training, where you go at the same time every day, typically after your first meal. You can also try natural lubricants, such as mineral oil, and osmotic agents, like milk of magnesia.
With the tips in this article, you easily take the first big steps you need to maintain the healthy, comfortable, and regular bowel movements that are a reflection of your overall health and well-being.