Constipation is a condition that will affect many of us at some point in our lives, and it becomes
more common as we age – most sufferers are over 65 years old. Our rate of physical activity also drops as we get older, and this has led some researchers to believe that there may be a link between exercise and constipation.
In this article, we analyse the available evidence to see whether physical activity can really help to relieve constipation.
What Is Constipation?
According to official figures from the NICE website, constipation affects around 12% of adults in the UK, and contrary to popular belief, having less than one bowel movement per day is not classed as constipation! In general, it is defined as passing less than 3 stools per week.
Constipation can be caused by medication, a lack of fibre in the diet, or there may be no obvious reason. It is also possible that a psychological issue such as stress may adversely affect the gastrointestinal system. Whatever the cause, persistent and chronic constipation equates to having symptoms which are present for at least 12 weeks in the preceding 6 month period.
Typical constipation symptoms are:
• Hard stools
• Abdominal bloating
• An excessive amount of time needed for a bowel movement
• Stomach pain
Can Physical Activity Help?
The published scientific studies on the link between exercise and constipation have produced mixed results.
In 2002, American researchers found that women were less likely to suffer from constipation if they engaged in a moderate physical activity and ate more fibre. The greatest benefit was seen when the study participants combined both behaviours.
Separate research from the Netherlands also gave positive results. Scientists analysed 43 people diagnosed with constipation – all participants were over the age of 45 years old and were allocated 30 minutes of brisk walking and 11 minutes of home-based exercise on a daily basis. This routine managed to reduce constipation symptoms and lowered average colonic transit time from 79.2 to 58.4 hours.
However, other investigations have failed to confirm a beneficial impact.
In 2004, an American survey of 1069 people was conducted to assess whether a decreased physical activity was associated with an increase in reported constipation. Once participants had returned their survey responses, it became clear that no clear link could be found, although an improved quality of life was reported by respondents engaging in exercise.
Despite the current evidence suggesting a possible but not definite association, we feel it is important to keep active as part of a constipation prevention program – after all, physical activity can also help to reduce the risk of stomach cancer.
It is important to always re-hydrate when exercising (a lack of fluids can also cause constipation), but becoming an elite athlete is not necessary! 30 minutes per day of walking, cycling, swimming or even dancing can help to improve overall health and keep our bodies in tip-top shape.
Exercise also produces endorphins that relax us and promote a more positive mindset – if you feel that your constipation is partly psychological, then indulging in physical activity can lower stress and anxiety.
If you have tried these kinds of self-help strategies but are still struggling with constipation then FGC can perform different tests such as colonic transit studies, anorectal manometry, proctography, hydrogen and methane breath testing and SmartPill studies in conjunction with your Doctor to find out the exact cause of your symptoms and develop an effective treatment strategy.
You would need a Doctor’s referral first and we can help find you an experienced Doctor if you need one.