How Brisk Walking Can Help With Constipation

Exercise helps relieve constipation and reduce colon cancer risks

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Certain medications, stress, or a lack of fiber can lead to constipation, a common condition that results in infrequent bowel movements. Modifying your lifestyle can regulate most cases. One of the most effective ways to do so is by incorporating regular moderate-to-vigorous exercise, as it encourages muscles in the bowel wall to naturally contract. That can mean jogging, water aerobics, and yoga, but even brisk walking can ease symptoms of constipation.

The Science Behind Walking to Relieve Constipation

A 2017 study analyzed middle-aged obese women who had chronic constipation over 12 weeks. Comparing one group who walked on a treadmill three times per week for 60 minutes to a second group that didn't partake in any physical activity, the former had greater improvement in their constipation symptoms and quality of life assessments.

A lack of gut bacteria balance is also linked to constipation. To that end, a 2019 study focused on the effect of brisk walking versus exercises that strengthened trunk muscles (i.e. planks) on intestinal microbiotic composition. The results showed that aerobic exercises like brisk walking can help increase intestinal Bacteroides, an essential part of healthy gut bacteria.

Though recommendations vary, studies have shown a positive effect when people engage in a minimum of 20 minutes of brisk walking per day most days of the week.

How Exercise Reduces Colon Cancer Risks

While experts like the National Cancer Institute haven't found a conclusive link between diet and a decreased risk of colon cancer, they've found physical activity to be a significant protective factor.

Some figures estimate the risk reduction as high as 50%, and that exercise can even help prevent recurrence after a colon cancer diagnosis—as high as 50% in some studies for patients with stage II or stage III colon cancer. The amount of exercise that had the best effects amounted to about six hours per week of moderate-intensity exercise such as brisk walking. Mortality was reduced by 23% in people who were physically active for at least 20 minutes several times a week.

It's not too late to start exercising. Inactive colon cancer patients who began exercising after their diagnosis also had far better outcomes than those who remained sedentary. More is also better as the most active patients had the best outcomes, on average.

Preventing Exercise-Related Diarrhea

Many runners and walkers find physical activity a little too effective on the colon and experience exercise-related diarrhea or loose stools, known as runner's trots. As many as 30 to 50% of endurance athletes have gastrointestinal problems during intense physical activity. If you find that you have this problem, you can take steps to prevent it.

  • Don't eat within two hours of exercise.
  • Avoid caffeine and warm fluids before exercise.
  • Limit high-fiber foods and those you know produce flatulence the day before endurance exercise.
  • If you are sensitive to lactose, avoid milk products or use Lactase.
  • Ensure you are well-hydrated before exercise and drinking enough during exercise. Drink a large glass of water an hour before and then don't drink until you are exercising. This gives your body time enough to pass any excess fluid.

When to Seek Professional Help

Constipation is usually resolved with changes like physical activity, but with chronic constipation, if you experience bloody stool (hematochezia), have recently lost 10 pounds or more, have iron deficiency anemia or positive fecal occult blood tests, or have a family history of colon cancer, it's important to see a doctor who may run diagnostic tests to ensure there aren't any underlying or serious conditions.

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