For many people, it can be hard to go.
The American College of Gastroenterology says constipation is one of the most frequent gastrointestinal-related complaints in the U.S. and Western countries, with at least 2.5 million doctor visits about this issue each year. An estimated 16% of adults and 33% of adults older than 60 suffer from constipation, which is when you have fewer than three bowel movements a week, hard or dry stools, or stools that are difficult to pass.
“Elimination from the GI tract is important to make sure your system remains fresh and relatively empty,” said Dr. Bryan Curtin, a board-certified gastroenterologist at The Institute for Digestive Health & Liver Disease at Mercy Medical Center. “Constipation and backed-up bowels can cause bloating and abdominal pain and other unpleasant symptoms. Passing stool that has been in the colon for a long time can also be difficult and painful.”
For something so standard, pooping can take a lot of effort (and can cause pain!). It’s also hard to know what’s right or what’s wrong.
“Regular bowel movements are a sign of a healthy digestive system,” said Sara Reardon, a board-certified women’s health and pelvic floor therapist and owner of NOLA Pelvic Health in New Orleans. “What is considered normal to poop is three times a day to three times a week. If you are going too often, you may not be emptying completely or stools may be too soft. If you are not going often enough, this can lead to constipation, hemorrhoids, and straining during bowel movements, which can weaken your pelvic floor muscles.”
Luckily, getting on a more regular pooping schedule is possible. Doctors and nutritionists have several helpful tips for training your body to go on your terms, so you can stay regular when it’s most convenient.
1. Eat more fiber
Think of foods containing insoluble fiber as “rough,” meaning they can help food move through your digestive system, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Examples include whole wheat bread, brown rice, legumes, carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes.
“Eating fiber is probably the number one priority to help you get regular,” Curtin said. “It is recommended to take 20-35 grams daily of fiber if you are constipated and this helps to even out the bowel movements.”
Good sources of fiber for getting on a regular schedule also include prunes and kiwi fruit. “These are actually the best foods for regular bowel habit, with kiwi fruits daily having better affect with lower side effects (like bloating) than prunes or an undifferentiated high-fiber diet,” Curtin said.
He added that many people will be able to manage their constipation by just adding fiber alone — it’s simply that effective.
On the other hand, eating dairy, spicy foods and greasy foods can make stools loose. “Bananas, rice, toast, and apples can all make your poop firm and easier to hold in,” Reardon noted.
2. Stay hydrated
By now you likely know you should drink at least eight glasses of water a day, but did you know water will help you with a bowel movement as well?
“Keep your body hydrated as the colon’s main job is to resorb water,” Curtin said.
Liana Werner-Gray, a certified nutritionist in New York, said you can increase your regular water consumption by consuming healthy juices and tea on top of your H2O. “Overall, leading a healthy lifestyle that is full of hearty and wholesome natural ingredients will regulate bowel movements,” she explained.
A study published in Hepatogastroenterology found that a combination of increased fiber and increased fluid helped ease constipation symptoms. It works by making your stools softer and easier to pass.
3. Exercise regularly
Get things moving in your colon by moving your body. A study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology found moderate physical activity and increased fiber intake substantially reduced constipation in women.
“Take standing or walking breaks if you are sitting for prolonged periods during the day, and try to get regular exercise four to five days a week — even if it’s just a walk outside,” Reardon said.
Reardon also recommended trying specific exercises focused on poop, like certain yoga moves. “Exercises that help with pelvic floor muscle relaxation can help you have better poops,” Reardon said. “Some recommended exercises are child’s pose, happy baby pose, or a deep squat, which all put your pelvic floor and hips in a more relaxed position and ultimately helps you relax better during bowel movements.”
4. Look into probiotics
One way to make sure you’re on the right track to creating a regular schedule is to check your poop consistency. Reardon says it should be similar to that of soft-serve ice cream. If it’s not, adding probiotics may help. You can achieve this through diet or a supplement. (Just be sure to chat with your doctor before starting any supplements.)
“Your poop can get too hard due to changes to your schedule, diet, activity levels, hormones during pregnancy, decreased water intake or even stress,” she explained. “Try adding prunes, magnesium citrate ... and probiotics to help keep stool soft.”
Werner-Gray also recommended taking probiotics, which are live microorganisms that promote gut health and overall wellness.
5. Go to the bathroom after eating
In your ideal situation, when would be the best time of day for you to have a bowel movement? Maybe it’s in the morning before work or at the end of the day when you make it home. No matter what time, you can train your body to go by going to the bathroom after eating.
“Give yourself ample time after meals (usually around 30 minutes) to have access to a bathroom,” Reardon said. “Eating food stimulates the reflex to push food toward your colon, which will stimulate the urge to poop, so schedule time after meals to avoid delaying the urge to poop.”
She also suggested a routine to stimulate bowel movements, like eating meals at a similar time of day and drinking warm water, tea or coffee in the morning.
6. Get a stool and practice proper breathing
“Yes, there is an optimal way to poop,” Reardon said. She recommended using a squatty potty or any stool under your feet, which will push your hips closer to a squatting position.
“This relaxes your pelvic floor muscles and anal sphincter to help you empty better,” she explained. “Think of this like you are unkinking a hose.”
While pooping, you should also avoid straining or holding your breath. “Many folks do this, but it just creates unnecessary tension down there,” Reardon said. “You instead want to exhale and blow out like you’re blowing out a candle when you bear down to poop.”
Think of pooping on a regular schedule as just another part of your overall wellness routine. After implementing a few new habits, you won’t even have to think about it! And if these tips don’t work, be sure to check in with your doctor to make sure your gastrointestinal issues aren’t a sign of a more serious condition.