Constipation is a common issue that affects many adults, particularly as they age. According to the National Institutes of Health, about 16% of adults experience symptoms of constipation, while 33% of adults aged 60 and older deal with this condition. Constipation is technically defined as having three or fewer bowel movements per week, although it can vary from person to person.
While most people consider constipation to be an annoying fact of life, it can lead to complications such as hemorrhoids, anal fissures, and rectal prolapse. Therefore, it is important to find ways to stay regular and avoid constipation. To gather some expert insights on this matter, we spoke to GI health experts to learn their strategies.
Consistent mealtimes and periods of rest are crucial, according to Dr. Harmony Allison, a gastroenterologist at Tufts Medical Center. The body's normal rhythm of bowel movements occurs after a period of rest and after meals, so establishing a regular eating schedule and allowing for periods of rest can be beneficial.
Eating fiber-rich foods is another key strategy. Dr. Supriya Rao, a board-certified obesity doctor and gastroenterologist, recommends consuming plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, and grains to increase fiber intake. Fiber promotes regularity by helping food move through the digestive system and adding bulk to stools. Aim for 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day from whole foods rather than relying on supplements.
Hydration is essential in reducing constipation, according to all the GI doctors we spoke with. Proper hydration is crucial for good bowel movements, and the general recommendation is to drink half of your body weight in ounces of water per day. Dr. Tarun Sharma, a gastroenterologist at Gastroenterology Associates of New Jersey, personally drinks one to two liters of water daily to stay regular.
Regular exercise is also important. Dr. Sharma suggests aiming for moderate exercise two to three times per week for 30 to 45 minutes. Exercise, along with adequate water intake, stimulates proper gut peristalsis, which is necessary for regular bowel movements.
While these tips can be helpful in managing constipation, it is important to consult a doctor if you are experiencing chronic issues. They can provide personalized advice or refer you to a specialist who can create a treatment plan tailored to your needs.