Constipation is a common disorder of the digestive system that is often affects individuals for a long period of time and has a negative impact on the daily lives of such people. Persistent difficulty with bowel movements may lead to severe complications such as fecal impaction (accumulation of hard feces in the rectum that is difficult to expell without assistance) and life-threatening situations such as volvulus (twisting of a part of the bowel).
One of the key risk factors for constipation is physical inactivity. Regular exercise can help in reducing and preventing the incidence of constipation. Physical activity helps to tone and strengthen the muscles of the large bowel. It also helps to decrease the time taken for food to move through the large intestine, thus limiting the amount of water absorbed from the stool during the transition period.
Regular exercise may also relieve constipation in patients who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, a functional bowel disorder characterized by mild to severe abdominal pain, bloating and alteration of bowel habits.1 In a study at University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom, a 12-week exercise intervention program significantly reduced constipation and bloating symptoms in individuals suffering from irritable bowel syndrome.
A team of researchers from the Netherlands, led by a scientist known as A. M. De Schryver, concluded that, in middle-aged inactive people with constipation, it is advisable to promote regular physical activity. They noted that exercise would improve both the motility (capacity of demonstrating movement by independent means) of the intestines and the time taken for the stool to pass in the lower part of the intestine, thereby alleviating the symptoms of constipation.2
- Daley AJ, Grimmett C, Roberts L, Wilson S, Fatek M, et al. The Effects of Exercise upon Symptoms and Quality of Life in Patients Diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Int J Sports Med. 2008; 29(9): 778–782.
- De Schryver AM, Keulemans YC, Peters HP, Akkermans LM, Smout AJ, De Vries WR, et al. Effects of Regular Physical Activity on Defecation Pattern in Middle-aged Patients Complaining of Chronic Constipation. Scand J Gastroenterol. 2005; 40(4): 422–429.