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5 Ideas for Healthier Bowels from a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist 

If you struggle with problems related to your gut health (digestive system), it’s a good idea to speak to a trusted health care provider about your symptoms. Recurring or chronic bowel problems like frequent constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating, or nausea can have many different causes—and can have a tremendous impact on your quality of life and overall well-being. You deserve relief!

In the meantime, there are plenty of strategies you can use at home to help you improve the health and regularity of your bowels. Here are five things I recommend to my patients as a physical therapist specializing in pelvic floor health.

1. Take Another Look At Your Diet

Improving your diet is step numero uno when it comes to bettering your bowel health! The food you eat has a tremendous impact not only on the bacteria living inside your gastrointestinal tract, but also on the way your gastrointestinal tract functions.

While there’s no one-diet-fits all, here are some general dietary suggestions that might help:

  • Eat more fiber (about 25 to 30 grams per day)—this non-digestible carbohydrate is consistently found to improve gut health and address common issues like diarrhea and constipation. Find it in things like berries, avocados, whole grains, lentils, beans, and apples.
  • Drink plenty of water—you’re probably getting enough if you’re urinating frequently and your pee is a light straw color.
  • Avoid or minimize foods that may irritate the gut, including spicy foods, red meats, sugary sweetened foods and beverages, caffeine, and alcohol.

2. Get More Movement

While the research is mixed, some studies suggest that physical activity can promote bowel health. There are plenty of plausible explanations: physical movement stimulates blood flow in and around the gut, literally helps “massage” the digestive organs and helps food move along the GI tract, promotes healthier gut bacteria, and alleviates stress (see point 5 for more).

Change the Way You Go

Believe it or not, there are certain bathroom habits that can help your bowel health and make it easier to go. The next time nature calls, try this:

  • Breathe deeply and avoid holding the breath while exertingRelax your face and jaw—this helps you remember to breathe and can help relax the pelvic floor
  • Avoid straining—instead, imagine your anus relaxing while gently tightening your abs as you push while you actively exhale as if blowing out birthday candles
  • Allow your spine to lengthen and then lean forward with forearms resting on the thighs
  • Raise your feet by placing them on a step stool, often it helps to have your knees and hips more open instead of right next to each other

4. Address Pelvic Floor Problems

The pelvic floor muscles are key players in bowel health—the urinary and gastrointestinal tracts pass directly through these muscles on their way out of the body. So, when these muscles are dysfunctional—spasming, tight, stretched out, or weak, for example—it can be much harder to control your bowel movements.

If you have chronic bowel problems, consider seeing a pelvic floor physical therapist who can assess and improve the function of these key muscles.

5. Develop a Sustainable Stress-Relief Routine

The relationship between stress and bowel health is a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg conundrum—that is, does high stress cause bowel problems, or do bowel problems cause high stress? Based on what I’ve seen in the research, I’d say it’s a bit of both!

I’d also say that no matter what the correlation is, alleviating stress can improve bowel health. In this case, gentle full deep diaphragmatic breathing, ideally in and out through the nose, is one of the most effective techniques to use regularly, since it promotes whole body relaxation and supports optimal core and pelvic floor function.

In addition to deep breathing exercises, find other things you like to do that can reduce your stress, including journaling, meditation, art, socialization, and yoga and other forms of exercise.

Bothered by Your Bowel Health? Try PT!

To schedule an appointment with a pelvic floor physical therapist in Bethesda, MD or McLean, VA, call ITR Physical Therapy now at 301-770-7060.