If you ever researched or asked your doctor about ways to improve your digestion, most likely you would hear that you should exercise on a regular basis.
Exercise improves blood circulation, lymphatic drainage, and in general helps things to move along. Or so it is thought.
However, what I noticed in the last 3 years of studying digestion and working with people on improving it is that not all exercise has the same effect. Some exercise will actually help counteract bloating and constipation, while other can foster it!
It might sound pretty crazy but certain exercise habits can make elimination less regular and as a result create digestive problems. I have experienced it myself and seen it in many other women.
Below I will share a few of my observations on these bad exercise habits and offer ways to avoid negative effects on the intricate digestive balance.
Not A Happy Belly Exercise Habits
- Not breathing properly while exercising – A lot of instructors will encourage people to hold their stomach in almost all the time. While core engagement can help stabilization and protect the spine, not letting the diaphragm come down during the breath is not a good habit. When we breathe fully our stomach should naturally extend to allow the diaphragm move down. Full breath = more oxygen in the blood = more energy to exercise and better digestion. When we hold the stomach in and it turns into a habit even outside of yoga or Pilates class, it can negatively impact digestion. A soothing massaging effect of deep abdominal breathing and a relaxed stomach make a huge difference in the functioning of the digestive and reproductive systems. Check in with yourself to make sure that you are not holding the breath when working hard and that each breath is complete. You should feel your abdominal area slightly expanding when you inhale.
- Doing core exercises without stretching afterwards – in general crunches, sit ups, side planks, and twists are great for digestion. They can help to improve circulation to the organs in the abdominal area and stimulate regularity. However, doing only contraction type of movement without creating extension through stretching afterwards can leave all the muscles around your digestive system tight. When things are tight, there is not enough space for movement so things (your waste) will get stuck. Make sure to always stretch and balance out the contraction with extension. Cat/Cow or a Cobra pose are great stretches to try after a core-toning routine.
- Dehydration – it hurts me to watch people on cardio machines or intense classes without water. When your body temperature is raised from exercise and you are sweating buckets, your body is loosing precious water. Considering that most people are dehydrated to begin with, extra water loss is not a welcome change in the body. When dehydrated our body draws water from the colon to provide enough hydration for other organs like heart and liver. If too much water from the stool and colon is re-absorbed back into the body, you get constipated. Fortunately, this problem is pretty easy to solve. Make your own rehydrating drink before working out with lemon, some sea salt, and honey or just sip on room T water with electrolytes but no sugar like Smart Water.
On the other hand some exercises are incredibly helpful when it comes to improving elimination and preventing bloating.
My Favorite Happy Belly Exercises:
- Yoga – Yoga is a multifunctional tool. It helps to resolve many issues that get in the way of connecting to your true self, including feeling constipated or bloated. It’s easier to meditate, to feel at peace, and to feel at hom
e living in a body that is free of waste. You can adapt your yoga practice to address the issue of digestion just the same way you adjust your diet to address your needs. In general compression/extension of the abdomen such as in a cat/cow or downdog into updog sequence, side stretching such as an extended side angle and triangle, and backbends are very helpful. If you want to learn all the yoga tricks for improving digestion, sign up to my upcoming workshop Yoga Relief for Bloating and Constipation. The class is online and you will have the recording available to watch at any time!
- Dancing and shaking your hips – belly dancing and Latin-inspired dancing are all great to get things moving! Dancing helps to move muscles of the abdominal and pelvis region which massages deeper internal organs. The result is better intestine and colon health. Remember, though, to leave at least an hour or two after eating before you dance. Having food content in the stomach while shaking your hips can make one nauseous! I love a dancy-y hip shaking routine from Tiffany Rothe. I do it at home at least once a week!
- Rebounder/ trampoline – this one is addictive! Rebounding stimulates the circulation of lymphatic fluid, the body’s waste disposal mechanism, providing direct support to your immune and digestive system. For me any exercise has to feel good and be fun, rebounding is both! It is a great cardio-endurance-toning workout! I have my rebounder sitting in the living room and often take breaks from writing to jump for a few minutes. You can get a trampoline at a very reasonable price from Amazon.
- Brisk Walking – walking is amazing in general. You get outside, breathe fresh air, get vitamin D… A pretty gentle bouncing movement of walking helps to improve circulation and digestion as well. So get outside and go for a walk!
Your turn: Have you noticed that exercise effects your digestion? If yes, what helps to improve it?
I am really excited about the upcoming class on Yoga for a Happy Belly class! It will be full of helpful exercises to reduce bloating and constipation. I really hope to see you there!