If you've ever been constipated, you know how uncomfortable it can be. Although laxatives can provide a short-term fix, making certain lifestyle changes can help solve the problem for good. Below, medical experts weigh in on seven habits you should avoid to improve your digestive health.
1. Inactivity and Constipation
Lack of exercise not only causes weight gain and other health problems, it can also affect digestion. "Sedentary lifestyle is the thing that I would worry most about," says G. Richard Locke III, MD, gastroenterologist with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. No one knows exactly why, he says, but being inactive can cause constipation.
What you can do: "The best thing you can do to move your bowels is wake up, eat a real meal, and do some low-level activity," Locke tells WebMD. It doesn't have to be rigorous exercise, he says. Moving your body every day will improve your digestive health.
2. A Low-Fiber Diet Slows Digestion
Fiber is the material in plant foods that your body can't digest, and it's important for good digestion. "It goes through you and gives you something to form a stool around," says Locke. When you don't have enough fiber in your diet, stools can become small, dry, and hard.
What you can do: Eating more fiber adds bulk to stools, making them softer and easier to pass. To get more fiber in your diet, eat more fruits and vegetables, legumes and beans, and whole grains. A simple rule of thumb is to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables at each meal. Also, always choose whole-grain breads and cereals and include one or two meals a week with beans or legumes. Gradually adding fiber to your diet (and be sure to drink plenty of water) will help prevent bloating and gas. Consider fiber supplements if the methods mentioned above don’t seem to help.
3. Not Drinking Enough Fluids Causes Constipation
When you're dehydrated, your body has less fluid available to keep stools soft. You can become dehydrated and not know it -- especially in hot weather.
"People don't really understand the symptoms of dehydration," says Faten Aberra, MD, MSCE, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Health System. "It can be as simple as fatigue -- not necessarily this dying thirst to have water. It can be very subtle."
What you can do: You don't necessarily have to drink 6 glasses of water a day to prevent constipation, Aberra says. The key is to drink enough so you don't feel thirsty. You can also tell you're getting enough fluids if your urine is clear or light yellow. And it doesn't have to be water, juice is fine as long as you keep an eye on how many calories you take in, she says. Aberra also suggests limiting alcohol and caffeine because they can cause you to lose fluid through urination.