Move More to Boost Digestion
By moving your body, you’ll get things moving in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract too. Efficiently processing food and waste will give your body less of a chance to absorb water from your stool. Stool that remains moist is easier to pass, which will help you stay regular. Plus, when processing food more quickly, your body will have less of a chance to absorb toxins—which can lead to GI disorders. Read on to learn why exercise improves digestion and how to work out to maximize this process.
Why physical activity helps digestion
Tones GI muscles
Physical inactivity can lead to less frequent bowel movements. After all, if you don’t exercise, the muscles in your GI tract can weaken. Less-than-strong GI muscles (like the transverse abdominis) will have more trouble compressing stomach contents and moving food and waste along. Accordingly, a 2014 study of psychiatric inpatients showed how aerobic exercise helped speed up digestion.
Stress can inhibit digestion. First, tight abdominal muscles will tense up rather than moving food along as quickly. Second, when we’re tense, our nervous system is in sympathetic (or “fight or flight”) mode, rather than parasympathetic (or “rest and digest”) mode. With our blood flowing to our heart and outer extremities instead of our GI tract, we’re focused on outrunning predators rather than processing and absorbing nutrients. Since exercising can help us relax, it can improve digestion.
Aerobic exercise helps pump blood through your body—including your GI tract. When circulation is optimal, your gut muscles will contract more strongly, helping move food and waste along.
According to research, exercise increases the diversity of healthy gut microorganisms—including bacteria responsible for breaking food down into nutrients, synthesizing nutrients, and protecting the gut from absorbing toxins that could lead to GI disorders.
Tips for better digestion
Here are some specific ways to incorporate exercise into your life to boost your digestion:
If you’ve just finished eating, wait at least one hour before exercising moderately or vigorously. Give your body time to digest, especially if your meal was large or heavy.
If you have issues with digestion (like bloating and pain), consider light or moderate rather than strenuous exercise. Vigorous exercise can worsen symptoms.
If you’re female, consider Kegel exercises. By strengthening the muscles on your pelvic floor, you’ll help your body push stool through your colon.
Choose an exercise routine you enjoy or at a minimum, don’t dread. If the latter, it can up your stress levels.
To de-stress, try yoga, tai chi, deep-breathing, and leisurely walks in nature.
To strengthen your abdominal muscles, do planks and crunches.
Drink plenty of water, especially if exercising outside on a hot summer day.