A healthy breakfast, a strong coffee and, well, a trip to the bathroom are just a few ingredients you need for a successful morning. But if you're not getting enough exercise (or too much), it could be affecting that last part.
In fact, your workout schedule can have a pretty big effect on your digestive health, and it goes beyond your regularity. Here's what you should know when it comes to exercise and bowel movements.
1. Exercise Can Help Keep You Regular
There's no hard-and-fast rule when it comes to how frequently you should be using the bathroom each day. For some, every day is normal, while for others, it's strictly every other. But the key to healthy digestion is regularity, according to Penn Medicine.
Ideally, your bowel movements should be soft and easy to pass with a fairly predictable or regular pattern, dietitian Leigh Renwick, RD, tells LIVESTRONG.com. If your restroom trips are more erratic, you may need to tweak your physical activity.
Moderate-intensity exercise, like jogging or biking, can help promote digestive regularity and consistency, Renwick says.
More to the point, regular exercise can help ease or alleviate constipation, according to a February 2014 study published in PLOS One. After tracking the physical activity and habits of students from 42 schools (more than 33,000 students), researchers found that constipation — defined as less than three bowel movements per week, according to the Mayo Clinic — was associated with insufficient exercise (less than one hour per day) and excessive sedentary behavior (sitting more than four hours per day).
On the flip side, frequent intense exercise, like long endurance training, can actually reduce your body's production of gas and nutrient absorption, potentially causing abdominal pain or loose stools.
Bottom line: It's important to find a healthy balance. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans — compiled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — recommend adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise each week, plus at least two strength-training sessions that work the major muscle groups. Aim for a mix of moderate and vigorous exercise sessions to help keep things healthy in the digestive department.
2. Running May Give You the Runs
Sometimes called "runner's trots" or runner's diarrhea, running-induced digestive unrest is another way exercise can affect your poop. It's most often characterized by frequent, loose bowel movements during or right after a run, according to the Mayo Clinic, and it's most common in long-distance runners.
The cause isn't totally clear, though. One study, published January 2017 in Current Opinion in Gastroenterology, suggests it's prompted by a combo of dehydration and certain dietary habits, but the authors note that much more research is needed to draw a conclusion.
Still, some tweaks to the foods or supplements you take before and during your workout might help prevent this condition. Limiting high-fiber or gas-producing foods soon before your run can help prevent digestive unrest while you exercise, according to the Mayo Clinic.
If you're extremely susceptible to running-induced diarrhea, limiting your intake of sugar alcohols (like isomalt and sorbitol) may help keep your bowel movements more regular, per the Mayo Clinic. Often, these added sugars can be found in chewing gum, sugar-free candy or ice cream. Similarly, be cautious with energy gels or pre-workout supplements, as they're often high in artificial sugar.
Limiting high-fiber or gas-producing foods before your run can keep you far away from the park's portable toilets. Also, watch your intake of sugar alcohols (found in gum or sugar-free candy) before lacing up your sneakers.
3. Exercise May Help With IBS Symptoms
While no absolute, firm conclusion can be drawn, exercise may have favorable effects on those with irritable bowel syndrome, according to a September 2018 study published in Neurogastroenterology & Motility.
After monitoring the effect of yoga, walking/aerobic activity and a few other exercise forms on nearly 700 people with IBS, researchers found that exercise was generally linked with improved IBS symptoms. They weren't able to establish a firm cause-and-effect relationship, though, so more research needs to be done.
And keep in mind that balance is still key: While exercise may help ease IBS symptoms by changing motility or decreasing blood flow to the gut, excessively intense exercise may actually cause bowel urgency, diarrhea and/or abdominal cramps, according to a May 2018 paper in EBM Guidelines.
Other Factors That May Affect Digestion
While some tweaks to your regular exercise regimen can help improve your digestion, there's a number of other factors that can help promote regularity. For one, ensuring you're getting enough fiber each day (about 25 grams), can help speed the movement of food through your digestive system, according to the FDA.
Your fluid intake is another key element behind digestive regularity. There's no set amount of fluids you should be getting each day, according to Harvard Health Publishing, but upping your water intake could positively affect your bowel movements.
If you're experiencing symptoms of digestive irregularity or discomfort that persist even after you've tweaked your exercise, diet and fluid intake, it's best to visit a health care professional that can guide you in the right direction.
Is This an Emergency?
- Penn Medicine: "The Scoop on Poop: What Does Your Poop Say About Your Health?"
- PLOS One: "Physical Activity and Constipation in Hong Kong Adolescents"
- Mayo Clinic: "Constipation"
- Current Opinion in Gastroenterology: "Runner's Diarrhea: What Is It, What Causes It, and How Can It Be Prevented?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Runner's Diarrhea: How Can I Prevent It?"
- Neurogastroenterology & Motility: "Exercise Therapy of Patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials"
- EBM Guidelines: "Functional Bowel Disorders and the Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)"
- FDA: "Dietary Fiber"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Easy Ways to Stay Regular"
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition"