- Being in lockdown is causing irregular bowel movements in many people
- Constipation shouldn't be ignored and can be eliminated with a few simple steps
- These include managing your stress, incorporating exercise and improving your diet
Pooping may seem like a normal, everyday ritual for most people, but for some, the prolonged stress of lockdown is affecting our gut health. And poor diet and unhealthy lifestyle choices can also contribute to issues like constipation.
In a nutshell, constipation is when you have dry, hard stools that are hard to eliminate. If the faeces sit in your colon for three days or longer, they become even harder and more difficult to pass, leading to fewer bowel movements (the official term for poop). If you go for weeks without a bowel movement, it can lead to chronic constipation and cause damage to your excretory system.
If you’ve been experiencing fewer than usual bowel movements during the past couple of months, here’s what you can do.
How often should we poop?
This varies entirely from person to person. While some people might have up to three bowel movements per day, others may only go a few times per week.
Health24 previously reported that it shouldn't not be less than three times per week.
Stress and constipation
The uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has provoked stress and anxiety among millions of people around the world. The crisis is unknown territory and has forced us to adapt to many changes.
Some studies have shown a strong link between psychological stress and bowel dysfunction. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), the colon is in part controlled by the nervous system, which responds to stress. If you feel this may be a contributing factor toward your irregular pooping, make it a point to learn good stress management skills, such as mindfulness and deep breathing techniques.
Vincenzo Sinisi, a qualified clinical psychologist, psychoanalyst, and group analyst in private practice in Cape Town, gave the following tips to remain calm during this crisis, including:
- Attend to your life: establish a daily routine, limit your digital consumption, and schedule activities that promote calm, such as reading a book or gardening.
- Attend to your mind: practice acceptance, reframe your current living experience, and acknowledge your feelings.
- Attend to your health: eat well, sleep well, and exercise.
Home exercises for some relief
Digestion problems are often lifestyle-related, with inactivity usually at the top of the list. Lockdown may have affected your exercise regime, and this Health24 article explains exactly how a lack of exercise can lead to digestive problems, which may, in turn, lead to constipation.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week. Even just walking or stretching can do wonders. If you prefer exercising indoors, here are some sure-fire tips to get that daily burst of exercise right inside your home.
Pro tip: Always ensure you are properly hydrated before, during and after exercise.
Manage constipation with a healthy diet
Not surprisingly, a poor diet is one of the leading causes of chronic constipation. Indulging in processed foods and refined food products can both cause tummy troubles.
“There's no denying that quarantine life has led to some drastic dietary shifts. Working from home (read: easy kitchen access 24/7), boredom, panic-buying shelf-stable groceries – all of these things can (and likely have) altered what you eat and how much you eat,” Niket Sonpal, M.D., New York-based internist, gastroenterologist, and adjunct professor at Touro College, told Shape.
However, there’s a simple solution to improving your diet: increase your fluid and dietary fibre intake. Having enough fluid with your food helps digestion and prevents constipation. Here are a few rich sources of dietary fibre:
- Cereals such as All-Bran cereals, fruit and bran cereals, and muesli
- Oats porridge
- Breads and grains like rye bread, wholewheat and brown bread, wheat biscuits and wholewheat pasta
- Dried fruit and nuts
- Fresh fruit like figs, oranges, bananas, and grapefruit
- Vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, butternut, green beans, eggplant, cooked beans, lentils and split peas, sweet potato, potato carrots, spinach, and beetroot