Being constipated is the worst. If your fiber-fueled efforts to stay regular just aren’t working, try these eight proven habits and tricks—guaranteed to get things moving right along.
1. Go for a jog. Physical activity combats constipation by encouraging brisk movement of food through the colon, minimizing the amount of water absorbed from stool and preventing dry, hard-to-pass poops. Studies show aerobic exercise promotes regularity, and yoga is effective for relieving sluggish elimination linked with stress. A regular regimen is best, but quick workouts can offer immediate relief. Even a ten-minute jog (or brisk walk) amps up heart rate, breathing and blood flow, increasing circulation in the abdomen and stimulating peristalsis—the natural squeezing contractions of intestinal muscles that push stools forward and prompt you to go.
2. Change your pooping posture. Sitting on a standard toilet compresses the intestines and muscles around the lower rectum, obstructing smooth bowel movements. For easier elimination: squatting relaxes the muscles and alters the angle of the colon, easing straining and allowing gravity to do its thing. In one study, participants who used a squatting position had faster movements, with minimal straining and less trouble emptying their bowels. Invest in a Squatty Potty, designed to elevate the knees, change the angle of the colon and promote more comfortable and complete evacuation. Or put a small footstool in front of the toilet and prop your feet on it, to mimic many of the same effs of squatting.
3. Practice belly breathing. Deep, full abdominal breathing enhances digestion, boosts blood flow to the colon and engages the diaphragm, creating a gentle massaging action that stimulates intestinal movement. Plus, slow, full breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, escorting the body into a relaxed, “rest and digest” state and calming stress—a key factor in chronic constipation. Studies link tension and anxiety with disrupted bowel habits, and show deep breathing increases the frequency and ease of elimination.
4. Have an avocado smoothie. Your digestive system and other organs need fat to function properly—but too much saturated fat impedes digestion and makes constipation worse. Avocados are high in healthy, monounsaturated fats to reduce inflammation, soothe the intestines and promote softer stools; almond butter and cashews have the same effects. And the high water content of a blender breakfast keeps intestines hydrated, crucial for easing constipation and making poops softer and easier to pass.
5. Rub your belly. It eases gas, relaxes intestines and can help you poop better: research shows abdominal massage stimulates peristalsis, speeds stool passage through the colon, increases frequency of bowel movements, and lessens discomfort and pain. Here’s how: lie down on your back in a comfortable location and put both hands on your belly. Starting in the lower right quadrant of your abdomen, massage with firm but gentle pressure in a slow, circular, clockwise motion for three to five minutes (don’t overdo it, or you’ll aggravate intestines). Use almond oil or coconut oil to help hands glide smoothly over skin; add a few drops of peppermint, ginger or rosemary essential oil for extra relief.
6. Establish a routine. Pooping around the same time every day trains the bowels, signaling the body that it’s time to go and promoting regularity. Choose a time that’s convenient for you, when you’re relaxed and unhurried; about 30 minutes after a meal is best, since eating triggers intestinal movement—and stick to the schedule. Post-breakfast is ideal, especially if you drink coffee: caffeine stimulates peristalsis and quickens the passage of food through the bowels. (But too much coffee is dehydrating, making constipation worse.) Plus, going to the bathroom before you leave the house for the day creates a more comfortable environment for easy elimination.
7. Take magnesium before bed. This simple, safe mineral promotes pooping in several key ways. Magnesium has an osmotic effect, drawing water into the intestines, stimulating bowel movements, increasing bulk and softness of stools, and making poop easier to pass. Magnesium’s calming actions soothe the nervous system and relax muscles (including the intestines), and studies show it’s effective in managing both occasional and chronic constipation. For more powerful relief, try an herbal laxative or tea with senna or cascara sagrada—safe when used infrequently, but not for daily relief.
8. Do not, repeat, do not “hold it.” When you wait to go, fecal matter lingers in the colon; the intestines absorb water from stools, leaving them hard, dry and difficult to pass. The longer you wait to defecate, the harder and drier they become, causing painful bowel movements, hemorrhoids, anal fissures and (worst case scenario) impacted stools and a visit to the emergency room. So, don’t hold your poop; head to the potty as soon as you feel the urge. If you’re reluctant to evacuate in a public restroom, establishing a routine can help; training your body to go at the same time every day ensures you can poop in a relaxed, comfortable and private environment.