Constipation relief: Five hacks to beat constipation and keep your bowels healthy

Dr Zoe Williams advises getting a 'squatty potty' for constipation

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Being unable to go to the toilet can cause severe discomfort, from cramping stomach pain to uncomfortable bloating. While turning to treatments like laxatives or eating fibre rich foods can help alleviate constipation, preventing the condition entirely is your best bet. Here are five top tips for beating constipation and keeping your bowels healthy.

We’ve all overindulged on unhealthy foods at one point or other, then suffered later in the day.

Keeping your bowel healthy is important for your general health, as sluggish movements or loose stools can impact your hydration levels, cause pain and tiredness.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) said as many as one in five of us are currently dealing with constipation.

The condition affects twice as many women as it does men, and older people are five times more likely than younger adults to suffer.

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The NHS explains you are likely to be constipated if

  • you have not had a poo at least three times during the last week
  • the poo is often large and dry, hard or lumpy
  • you are straining or in pain when you have a poo

Feeling bloated, sick and having a stomach ache are also caused by constipation.

Bear in mind if your constipation has lasted more than three weeks you should speak to your doctor, who can check to see there isn’t a medical reason to blame.

There’s a range of reasons you can become constipated – from a lack of fibre to being inactive, feeling stressed and even changing your diet or medication.

Cheryl Lythgoe matron at Benenden Health gave her top five tips for keeping your bowel healthy.

1. Eat more Fibre

We all know fibre helps keep things moving, but it’s important to eat enough if you’re feeling run-down or struggling to go to the toilet.

Cheryl explains: “Increasing fibre in your diet can help with constipation issues, and it can be found in various foods, including fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains and legumes.

“Opting for wholegrain bread, pasta, and cereals will really help to increase the fibre that you are consuming and may help to make your toilet trips a bit more frequent.

“Fibre is an excellent addition to your diet; however, if you suddenly increase your fibre intake, you may experience a bloated tummy or excess wind.

“Therefore, try to make this increase gradually and try new things to see what works for you. When adding additional fibre to your diet also try to increase water and fluids, as this can help to dissipate any issues.”

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2. Drink more 

Keeping hydrated is integral for everyday health, but it can also help keep you regular.

Cheryl said: “Drinking enough water every day is important for your overall health as it helps to prevent dehydration, a condition that can cause unclear thinking, result in mood changes, cause your body to overheat and also it may lead to constipation or kidney stones.

“Most of your fluid needs are met through the water and beverages you drink, which is why it is recommended that you drink eight to ten glasses a day.

“By making sure you stay hydrated, you will likely notice an improvement in your bowel movements, as the water will help to soften the stool, making the process easier.”

However, Cheryl cautions against drinking too much caffeine or alcohol, as these both can dehydrate you and exacerbate bowel issues like constipation.

3. Increase movement 

If you’re struggling to go, getting up and moving your body can help trigger your bowels.

Cheryl says: “A brisk walk, swim, or even gardening are great ways to improve natural movement, which also helps improve bowel movements.

“As lack of exercise can slow down the natural movement of faeces in the bowel, leading to constipation.

“It does not need to be an intense form of exercise to help improve constipation, but simply doing some exercise each day can help to improve bowel movements.”

4. Listen to your body 

You might be fed up of heading back and forth to the toilet but you need to listen to your body Cheryl advises.

She explained: “Sometimes you may feel embarrassed going to the toilet, especially if you are in a new or a particularly busy or public place. However, holding it off can worsen constipation.

“It is important that if you feel the urge, that you find a toilet that you can use.

“Even if that means popping into a local café or using the toilets at work! To prevent being caught out when you are on the go, it is a good idea is to set aside a regular time to use the toilet, such as after breakfast. 

“It can be challenging to listen to your body; however, it is important to go when you need to – remember it is natural and nothing to feel embarrassed about!”

5. Try to relax

Not being able to go to the toilet may cause you to feel stressed, however, this can worse constipation or even be a trigger.

Cheryl said: Life can often throw challenges and stress at us, which can be another cause of constipation.

“An example of this is while you are on holiday or travelling, as there may be less easy access to a toilet whilst you are away from home. 

“Therefore, it is important to try to relax and give yourself time to go to the toilet. If you are regularly stressed or anxious, bowel movements can be affected. 

 “Having issues with your bowel movements is a common problem; however, with these simple lifestyle changes, there is the potential to make a big difference!”

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