Get those Bowel Muscles Moving!
Get Those Bowel Muscles Moving!
A sedentary lifestyle and lack of daily exercise can actually be a cause of a sluggish bowel because the musculature surroundings of the intestinal walls can become lazy. Getting moving daily with activities such as walking, dancing, yoga and abdominal exercises, and even abdominal massage, can help tone the intestinal muscle system.
But before we get into what physical activities you can do to help, lets take a closer look at how those muscles work and the importance of keeping them toned.
When someone is backed up, it’s usually your large intestine that is the culprit. So where is the large bowel placed in the body? Very simply, it’s the final road your food takes before excretion. When we eat, food first heads down to the stomach, which churns the food up then moves it into the small intestine. The small intestine is the longest journey your food will take – it can be up to 7 metres long! The small intestine is where most of the nutrients from your food are absorbed. Once through the small intestine it moves into the large intestine. This is a lot larger in diameter than the small intestine, but a lot shorter (about 1.5 metres) and ends at the anus. The large intestine has the job of absorbing water and salt from the food remnants and to get rid of any waste products (faecal matter).
All this movement through the digestive tract is managed by what we call peristalsis. Peristalsis involves alternating waves and relaxation of the muscles in the organ wall. It moves food back and forth in motion, which mixes the food up and also helps to move it along.
Bowel movement is also controlled by the pelvic floor muscles. Our pelvic floor muscles can weaken during pregnancy and childbirth, and also as we age they can become lazy. The muscles can also weaken due to constant straining from trying to pass stools. Difficulty passing stools can also occur from the pelvic floor muscles in the rectum being too tight and unable to relax.
One of the best ways to get your digestive tract muscles moving is to practice specific bowel exercises. There are a few different exercises you can pick from below. All you need to do is choose one that best suits you and try to commit doing it on a regular basis.
Take a brisk 30 minute walk once a day or a brisk 10 – 15 minute walk twice a day at least 3 times a week.
Walking stimulates the muscles in your intestines (peristalsis), which helps move the stools through faster.
Yoga supports your digestive system organs, increases blood flow, aids in the process of peristalsis and encourages stools to move through the system. Here are 5 yoga poses that are excellent for keeping regular (see yoga section at end of article):
- Half Spinal Twist (Ardhya Matsyendrasana)
- Gas Release Pose (Pawanmuktasana)
- Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
- The Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)
- Forward Bending Pose (Paschimottanasana)
Pelvic floor exercises
The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that support the digestive tract.
The following are some examples of pelvic floor exercises.
- Split tabletop
- Bird dog
Or alternatively, if you are unable to practice exercise due to injury or other health issues, here is a gentle pelvic floor exercise you can do lying down, sitting or standing:
- Squeeze and draw in your back passage and vaginal muscles
- Ensure you are not activating your buttock or abdominal muscles
- Ensure you breathe normally (don’t hold your breath)
- Hold for 10 seconds
- Relax and repeat about 5 – 10 times
- You can do this every day
While practicing daily exercise to ensure regular bowels, don’t forget the importance of drinking plenty of water daily and a well-balanced healthy diet with the majority of food from vegetables, fruit, legumes, beans and wholegrains.
- Lopez, Lani. Natural Health, A NZ A to Z guide. (2004) David Bateman Ltd., Albany, Auckland, NZ.
- Marieb, Elaine.N. Essentials of Human Anatomy & Physiology, 8th Edition 463-478. (2006). Published by Benjamin Cummings, San Fransisco, CA 94111.
5 Easy Yoga Poses for Healthy Bowel Movement:
Follow the poses in sequence.
Half Spinal Twist (Ardhya Matsyendrasana)
- Kneel down with your legs together, resting on your heels.
- Sit to the right of your feet.
- Lift your left leg over your right, placing your foot against the outside of your right knee. Bring your right heel in close to your buttocks. Keep the spine erect.
- Stretch your arms out to the sides at shoulder level and twist around to the left.
- Bring your right arm down the outside of the left knee and place your right hand on the floor behind you. Look over you left shoulder.
- Breathe normally and hold for 30 – 60 seconds. Repeat on the opposite side.
Gas Release Pose (Pawanmuktasana)
- Lie on your back in a relaxing position (feet together and arms beside your body).
- Bring your knees towards your chest and press the thigh on your abdomen, keeping your knees and ankle together, with clasped hands.
- Lift your neck and tuck your chin into your chest. Hold this position, as you take deep, long breaths in and out for 4-5 seconds.
- You may rock up and down or roll from side to side 3-5 times and then relax.
Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
- Lie down on your front with your legs together and palms facing down under your shoulders.
- While breathing in, engage the abdominal muscles and legs, lift the head slightly, and gently curl the neck backwards.
- Keeping the head back and looking up, press the palms into the floor, gently lift the shoulders and upper body.
- Try to distribute the stretch evenly along your spine. Breathe calmly and hold here for 5 to 10 breaths. Do not overstretch to the point of feeling pain in your lower back.
- As you exhale, gently release your body back to the floor.
Forward Bending Pose (Paschimottanasana)
- Sit up with the legs stretched out straight in front of you, keeping the spine erect and toes flexed toward you
- Breathing in, raise both arms above your head and stretch up. Now bend forward keeping your spine erect and extend your torso over your legs, while gazing at your toes and keeping your chin up.
- Continue right down and place your hands whichever part of our legs or feet you can comfortably reach without bending the knees.
- Stay in this position as long as you can or for 30 seconds if you are a beginner.
The Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)
- Lie down on your front, rest your forehead on the mat.
- Inhale and bend your knees, then reach back with your hands and clasp your ankles.
- Breathe out, then breathe in lifting your chest off the ground and pull your legs up and back.
- Breathing in and out while holding the pose can rock you back and forward, massaging the digestive muscles.
- Hold for as long as you can or for 30 seconds if you are a beginner.
The importance of hydration on bowel motility
It is common knowledge that water is essential for life, but it may not be the first thing you would associate with good functioning digestion and bowel movements. However, dehydration is often a reason for sluggish digestion and dry, hard, difficult to pass stools.