Movement and Digestion: How to get your bowel moving

Uncomfortable bowel movements happen to everyone. We often don’t consider fiber, or just don’t know about it. But there are many other contributing factors such as gastrointestinal illnesses, dehydration, and lack-of-movement between meals. So far, we’ve discussed how dehydration and a low-fiber diet can play a role in constipation. So, we’re going to focus on movement and digestion! 

How Food Travels Through Your Body

What digestion can look like. A man holding his stomach and a drawn white outline of the body's digestive system.
Your digestive system is more than just your stomach and colon!

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s talk about digestion.

Digestion doesn’t start at the stomach. In fact, it starts as soon as you place food into your mouth. And the more you chew, the easier it is for your organs to break down the food you eat. Then, once the food is broken down, your body absorbs the nutrients and tells them where to go. So, what happens if you aren’t eating nutritious meals? 

“Processed and fast foods are often high in fat, making them difficult to digest. They are also rich in sugar, which may upset the balance of bacteria in the gut.”

When your diet is high in processed and fast foods, you’re depriving your body of key nutrients. Also, your body doesn’t agree with processed foods. That’s more work or overload for your gallbladder and kidneys.

Anyways, we all know the last part of digestion, bowel movements💩 

We’ve all experienced uncomfortable bowel movements, but probably don’t have the answer to our troubles. While the contributing factors may vary by person, we’re here to discuss how movement can help!

Why Movement is Important for Digestion

Movement. A low shot of a person's feet in athletic shoes talking a walk surrounded by Cherry Blossom Trees.
Getting some movement in after a meal tells your digestive tract muscles to get moving too!

Now, we’re not saying to do extreme cardio after a heavy meal. Actually, we don’t recommend that at all. We’re talking about light and easy movements such as going for a 10-15min walk and here’s why!

Moving around and using your muscles after you eat triggers peristalsis [peh·ruh·staal·suhs]. Peristalsis is a series of wave-like muscle contractions that move food through the digestive tract.”

So, if the muscles in your digestive tract are moving, then so is everything in there too! Which means by moving your body, your digestive system is getting a push of encouragement from your muscles. 

So, “How long after a meal should I do light exercise?”

Well, this doctor recommends waiting about 1 hour after your meal. 

Light Exercises We Recommend

10-15 Minute Walk

As mentioned earlier, walking for at least 10-15 minutes around the block or on a treadmill will trigger peristalsis!

Belly Breathing

But did you know there is a type of breathing that also aids in digestion? It’s called diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing. Basically, instead of inhaling with your chest, you inhale with your stomach. This form of breathing helps with digestion because it puts your body into a “rest-and-digest” state. It’s also been shown to reduce anxiety and improve the feeling of relaxation. Here’s how you can do it:

  1. Sit with legs crossed. Make sure your spine is aligned. Head over heart, heart over pelvis.
  2. Place one hand on the middle of the upper chest.
  3. Place the other hand on the stomach, just beneath the rib cage but above the diaphragm.
  4. To inhale, slowly breathe in through the nose, drawing the breath down toward the stomach. The stomach should push upward against the hand, while the chest remains still.
  5. To exhale, tighten the abdominal muscles and let the stomach fall downward while exhaling through pursed lips. Again, the chest should remain still.

Yoga/Stretching

“People believe yoga aids in digestive health by reducing stress, increasing circulation, and promoting physical movement, or motility, of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.”

There is a form of yoga that encourages belly breathing with each movement. So, if you are up for it, try it!

We are no yoga instructors, only yoga do-ers! So, here’s our recommended yoga tutorial that focuses on digestion!

If you like this blog about your body, check out our Water and Digestion Blog!

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