By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Constipation is one of the common disorders of the lower gastrointestinal tract. Chronic idiopathic constipation usually has no well defined underlying cause.
Constipation is seen among all age groups including the elderly and children. Constipation involves difficulty in passing stools. There are several risk factors associated with constipation. One important risk factor includes low level of physical activity and sedentary lifestyle.
Sedentary lifestyle and risk of constipation
With age and sedentary lifestyle the risk of constipation seems to increase. Further studies have shown that age, sedentary lifestyle and constipation association is more prominent among males than females.
However, the beneficial effects of walking and increased fibre intake on constipation are seen in both genders.
There are several studies on women too that have shown that low physical activity could be linked to increased risk of constipation.
Benefits of regular physical activity
Studies have concluded that moderate regular physical activity decreases the risk of chronic gastrointestinal symptoms of chronic constipation.
The cause for such benefits has been cited to be:-
improvement in blood flow to the lower gastrointestinal tract
changes in the neuronal mechanisms and local hormonal alterations
Body mass index (BMI) and constipation
Research has also shown that there is a direct correlation between increased body weight and body mass index and constipation. Increased BMI again is directly correlated with sedentary lifestyle and lack of physical activity along with an unhealthy low fibre and high fat diet.
Moderate exercise and frequency of defecation
Some studies have revealed that moderate exercise by bicycle and jogging for one hour per day at 50 percent maximum oxygen consumption intensity increase bowel motions and have a beneficial effect on frequency of defecation.
Patients with slow-transit constipation benefit most from moderate aerobic exercise. It increases gut transit but has little beneficial effect on defecation frequency. Strength (force-generating capacity) training on the other hand increases bowel transit time, moving the faeces faster, and also benefits middle-aged men who were previously sedentary.
Abdominal massage for constipation
Abdominal massage is another modality of therapy for constipation that has been practised since 1870. Over time, its therapeutic use has declined.
Now however many studies are taking another look at the efficacy of this modality of therapy. Some studies have shown that massage of the spastic abdomen for 15 to 20 minutes daily in a path following the ascending, transverse, and descending colons could help open the bowels within a half hour after the massage without the need for enemas.
Reviewed by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)
Last Updated: Mar 26, 2013