December is now upon us and the holiday season is in full swing. Between the holiday party at the office or time spent traveling to visit friends and family (not to mention the stress that can accompany extra family time), you may find that your body is a bit out the sync. The bowels in particular love routine. Nothing like a 5 hour car ride to the in-laws, a plate of Christmas cookies or latkes for dinner, and kids home from school for a week to slow everything down. Keep reading for 5 tips on how to stay “regular” over the holiday season.
Get moving part I
It can be challenging to maintain a gym routine with cancelled classes on the holiday schedule and a long to do list. December still has some prime weather days left. Go for a nice long walk on days that you can’t fit in your usual workout. Regular physical activity has shown to be beneficial in improving colon transit time (DeSchryver et. al, 2005).
Get moving part II
Now that your body is moving, part II is all about keeping the bowels moving. A study from 2011 showed that abdominal massage can stimulate peristalsis, decrease colon transit time, improve the frequency of bowel movements, and can help ease the discomfort and pain of constipation (Sinclair, 2011).
How to perform basic abdominal massage for constipation (Abbate, L., 2018)
- Start at 1 and perform 10 downward strokes with firm pressure
- Move to 2 and perform 10 strokes in an L shape starting below the right ribs
- Move on to 3 and perform 10 strokes in a U shape from lower right abdomen to lower left abdomen
Follow your grandmother’s advice and eat your prunes. Drink one small cup of prune juice (with pulp) before bed. The pulp will irritate the colon as it passes through and increase the urge to go. Alternatively try warm water with lemon or warm water with honey. It’s no secret that a daily cup of coffee can get things moving, and as cliche as it sounds, make an effort to drink your 8 cups of water per day (Abbate, L., 2018).
Diet is everything…well maybe not everything, but what you eat has a significant influence on managing constipation. Your diet should include both insoluble and soluble fiber. Insoluble fiber bulks everything up as it moves through the digestive system. Soluble fiber holds onto water which helps soften stool for improved ease during bowel movements. Commit to one meal per day where you minimize processed foods. Vegetables like green beans, broccoli, the skins of fruits and vegetables, and whole wheat products provide insoluble fiber. Oats, beans, nuts, and fruits are just a few of the dietary sources of soluble fiber.
Keep those hips happy
The large intestine forms a U shape starting in the lower right abdomen and descending on the left. The psoas and iliacus (iliopsoas) also commonly referred to as the hip flexors originate from the lumbar spine and in the pelvis and cross over the hip joint to insert on the femur. What do these muscles and the colon have in common? They run right next to each other. Tight hip flexors = restricted and unhappy colon. Hours spent sitting and traveling in a car or plane shorten the hip flexors. Try some simple standing hip swings to loosen up the hip flexors, and visit our social media pages for yoga stretches to open up tight hips (Abbate, L. 2018).
Put a squatty potty on your wishlist
If you have ever been to any type of physical therapy before, you know that posture correction comes first. It’s no different when it comes to pelvic PT. Toilet posture is crucial when it comes time to move things along. Pelvic health physical therapists have known this for a while, but it wasn’t until just a few years ago that the squatty potty became all the rage. If you’re not familiar with the science behind squatty potty check out the link here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYcv6odWfTM. We are not in any way affiliated with squatty potty but it’s a great product. The concept is simple; a small stool elevates the feet and improves the angle of the rectum for emptying. Alternatively, grab a small stool or some old phone books to place under your feet and see if it makes a difference.
Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system. Without getting too much into the science of it all, the sympathetic nervous system is all about “fight or flight.” At an evolutionary level, when your ancestors were running away from a lion, the last thing they needed was to need a bathroom break. Stress slows everything down. The parasympathetic nervous system is the system that helps us “rest and digest.” The answer is simple: “just relax”….just kidding. That’s probably the last thing someone wants to hear when they are stressed out.
So how do we relax? We need to tap into that parasympathetic nervous system to get things moving. Start from the very basics with the breath, more specifically the diaphragmatic breath. In research, the diaphragmatic breath has been shown to positively influence cortisol, the stress hormone, levels in the body (Ma et. al, 2017).
How to do a diaphragmatic breath
Step 1: Find a comfortable quiet spot to lay down on your back
Step 2: Bend your knees and place one hand on the chest and one hand on the abdomen
Step 3: Inhale and let the belly gently rise and expand, ribs should also move laterally (sideways)
Step 4: Exhale and let the belly gently falls back toward the spine. Your top hand on the chest should stay still. The apical breath (pictured below) is the breath we tend to resort to when stressed.
From all of us at Hudson Valley Physical Therapy, we wish you a very happy and healthy holiday season. For more information on our services for men and women visit our website www.hudsonvalleypt.com, give us a call at 914-831-9575, or follow us on facebook, instagram, youtube, and twitter.
Megan Fosko PT, DPT
Abbate, L. (2018). Bowel Pathology, Function, Dysfunction & the Pelvic Floor Course Manual. Herman and Wallace Pelvic Rehab Institute.
De Schryver, A. M., Keulemans, Y. C., Peters, H. P., Akkermans, L. M., Smout, A. J., De Vries, W. R., & van Berge-Henegouwen, G. P. (2005). Effects of regular physical activity on defecation pattern in middle-aged patients complaining of chronic constipation. Scand J Gastroenterol, 40(4), 422-429.
Ma, X., Yue, Z. Q., Gong, Z. Q., Zhang, H., Duan, N. Y., Shi, Y. T., Wei, G. X., … Li, Y. F. (2017). The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 874. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874
Sinclair, M. (2011). The use of abdominal massage to treat chronic constipation. J Bodyw Mov Ther, 15(4), 436-445. doi:10.1016/j.jbmt.2010.07.007