Relieving Hard Stools: Softening Bowel Movements

how to soften a bowel movement

Bowel movements can be softened by making a few simple changes to your diet and lifestyle. Firstly, it's important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. This helps to prevent dehydration, a common cause of hard stools. You should also increase your fibre intake by eating more whole-grain cereals, beans, nuts, vegetables, and fruits such as apples, pears, and prunes. In addition to dietary changes, staying active can also help to stimulate your digestive system and encourage regular bowel movements. If these changes don't help, you may want to try natural stool softeners such as olive oil, aloe vera juice, or Epsom salt.

Characteristics Values
Water Intake Increase
Fibre Intake Increase
Exercise Increase
Massage Abdominal
Epsom Salt 3-5 cups in a bath
Mineral Oil Drink
Laxatives Over-the-counter
Stool Softeners Over-the-counter
Lubricants Coat the stool
Stimulant Laxatives Contract the intestine
Suppositories and Enemas Laxatives inserted into the rectum

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Drink more water

Drinking more water is one of the most effective ways to soften your bowel movements. Water is a key component of stool, and dehydration is a common cause of constipation.

The large intestine has one main function: to absorb water from waste liquids and turn them into solid waste, known as stool. The stool becomes hard, dry, and difficult to pass when the colon absorbs too much water or if the colon's muscle contractions are too slow. This slow movement can cause the stool to stick to the colon wall, requiring the colon to develop high-pressure waves to move the stool.

Drinking more water helps to add fluid to the colon and bulk to the stool, making bowel movements softer and easier to pass. It is recommended to drink at least 8-10 glasses (60-80 oz.) of pure water daily to improve constipation symptoms. Along with increasing water intake, it is also important to avoid alcoholic and caffeinated beverages, as they can contribute to dehydration.

While increasing water intake is essential, it is also crucial to combine it with a high-fibre diet. Fibre helps add bulk to the stool and stimulates the bowels to move. However, it is important to increase fibre intake gradually, as adding too much fibre too quickly can cause digestive discomfort.

In addition to water and fibre, regular physical activity can also help stimulate bowel movements. Exercise helps stimulate the digestive system and promotes regular bowel movements.

By staying hydrated, eating a high-fibre diet, and engaging in regular physical activity, you can effectively soften your bowel movements and improve constipation.

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Eat more fibre

Eating more fibre is one of the most common pieces of advice given to people experiencing constipation. Fibre is the name given to the non-digestible carbohydrates found in plants. It is usually divided into two groups: insoluble and soluble fibre. Insoluble fibre, which does not dissolve in water, is found in wheat bran, vegetables, and whole grains. It adds bulk to your stool and acts like a brush, sweeping through your bowels to keep things moving. Good sources of insoluble fibre include wholewheat flour, nuts, beans, and vegetables such as cauliflower, green beans, and potatoes.

On the other hand, soluble fibre, found in oat bran, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, and peas, as well as some fruits and vegetables, absorbs water and forms a gel-like substance. This helps your stool pass smoothly through your bowels and improves its form and consistency. Soluble fibre also has the added benefit of increasing the good bacteria in your gut, which may reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Good sources of soluble fibre include apples, oranges, broccoli, berries, and legumes such as beans and lentils.

It is important to note that most fibre-rich foods contain a mixture of both insoluble and soluble fibre. While eating more fibre can be an effective way to soften your bowel movements, it may not work for everyone. Some studies have shown that reducing fibre intake can be beneficial in certain cases, especially if your diet already contains sufficient fibre. Additionally, increasing fibre intake too quickly can lead to unwanted side effects like bloating and abdominal discomfort. Therefore, it is recommended to increase your fibre intake gradually and ensure you are drinking plenty of water to aid the passage of fibre through your digestive tract.

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Exercise more

Exercise is a great way to get things moving in your digestive tract and can be a natural remedy for constipation. Inactivity is a key cause of constipation, so getting up and moving can help to speed things up.

Any exercise is good exercise when it comes to encouraging bowel movements, but there are some specific types of exercise that can be particularly beneficial.

Cardio

Cardio exercises get your blood pumping and increase your breathing, which boosts your heart rate and stimulates your bowels. Running, swimming, cycling, dancing, and walking are all great cardio exercises that can help to get things moving. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week, which is around 30 minutes a day, five times a week.

Yoga

Yoga is another great way to get your bowels moving. Certain poses work to massage the digestive tract and help move stool through your intestines. Twisting your torso or crunching your stomach muscles can be particularly beneficial. Yoga is also a great option for those who find more vigorous exercise difficult.

Pelvic Floor Exercises

The pelvic floor is the layer of muscles at the bottom of your pelvis that includes your bladder and bowel. By strengthening these muscles, you can help push stool through your colon more easily.

Deep Breathing Exercises

Deep breathing is an easy way to improve your digestive functioning and can be done anywhere. One such exercise is the 4-7-8 technique:

  • Sit in a chair with your back straight and your hands resting in your lap.
  • Breathe out through your mouth, exhaling completely.
  • Close your lips and inhale through your nose for a count of four seconds.
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven seconds.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth for a count of eight seconds.
  • Repeat this process three more times for a total of four cycles.

Squats

Squatting is an effective way to relieve constipation. Sitting in a deep squat can help things move more easily, and performing squats regularly can help keep things moving.

Exercising helps to stimulate your digestive system and can be an effective treatment for constipation. It is important to stay active and incorporate movement into your daily routine to help keep your bowel movements soft and regular.

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Try natural stool softeners

Natural stool softeners are a great way to soften your bowel movements without the side effects that may come with over-the-counter solutions. Here are some natural stool softeners that you can try:

Increase your fibre intake

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, men should get 38 grams of fibre a day, while women should get 25 grams. However, the average adult gets only about half of that. Fibre is essential because it adds bulk to your stool, helping to relieve constipation. There are two types of fibre: soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fibre is particularly beneficial for softening stools as it does not dissolve in water and helps food pass more quickly from the stomach to the intestines. Good sources of insoluble fibre include wholewheat flour, nuts, beans, and vegetables such as cauliflower, green beans, and potatoes. It is important to increase your fibre intake gradually and drink plenty of water to help smooth its passage through the digestive tract.

Stay hydrated

Water helps to soften stools by increasing their water content. Stool becomes hard and clumpy when it doesn't have enough water content as it enters the colon, which can be due to various reasons such as stress, travel, or medication side effects. To avoid this, it is important to drink enough fluids, especially water. While the eight-glasses-a-day rule doesn't work for everyone, a good indicator that you're not getting enough fluids is if your urine is dark yellow, low volume, and infrequent.

Exercise regularly

Exercise stimulates digestion by increasing the body's demand for water, so it is crucial to stay hydrated before, during, and after working out. It also helps to lose weight, which has been shown to decrease gastrointestinal problems like constipation. Even a 30-minute walk after a meal can help improve digestion and promote regular bowel movements. For those who find high-intensity exercise challenging, there are many gentle options, such as yoga sequences specifically designed to improve digestion.

Try natural laxatives

There are several natural laxatives that can help with constipation. These include:

  • Olive oil: The fats in olive oil help ease constipation by lining the inside of the bowel and helping the stool hold more water, making it softer. One tablespoon of olive oil on an empty stomach can help relieve constipation in most adults. However, it is not recommended for children.
  • Aloe vera juice: Aloe vera is rich in compounds that help ease inflammation of the digestive tract. It can be consumed on its own or added to smoothies or juices. It is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women, children under 12 months, and those who may be allergic to aloe vera.
  • Epsom salt: Epsom salt contains magnesium and sulfate, which increase the amount of water in the intestines, softening the stool. It can be added to bathwater or taken orally as a natural treatment for constipation. It is not recommended for children under 6, and its safety for pregnant and breastfeeding individuals is unknown.
  • Mineral oil: Mineral oil is a lubricant laxative that coats the stool and bowel, helping to retain moisture and pass the stool more easily. It is available in liquid or enema form but should not be used for more than two weeks. It is not recommended for pregnant women or children without consulting a doctor.
  • Probiotics: Probiotics are live beneficial bacteria that help preserve the gut microbiome and improve digestion. They are found in fermented foods such as kefir, sauerkraut, yogurt, kimchi, miso, kombucha, and tempeh, as well as supplements and drinkable yogurt. Probiotics are generally safe for most people, including children and the elderly, but it is best to consult a doctor if you have a condition that affects your immune system.
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Avoid empty-calorie, low-fibre foods

To soften your bowel movements, it is important to avoid empty-calorie, low-fibre foods. These types of foods do not add much nutritional value to your diet and can contribute to constipation. Empty-calorie, low-fibre foods tend to be highly processed and high in calories, which can lead to weight gain and other health issues.

So, what are some examples of empty-calorie, low-fibre foods that you should limit or avoid? Fast food, processed foods, and chips are some of the main culprits. These foods are typically high in unhealthy fats, added sugars, and salt, while offering little to no fibre or essential nutrients.

Instead, focus on incorporating more high-fibre foods into your diet. Fibre is essential for promoting regular bowel movements and maintaining a healthy digestive system. There are two types of fibre: soluble fibre and insoluble fibre. Soluble fibre, found in oats, barley, and fruits, helps to reduce LDL cholesterol levels and lowers the risk of heart disease. Insoluble fibre, on the other hand, helps food pass more quickly from the stomach to the intestines. Good sources of insoluble fibre include wholewheat flour, nuts, beans, and vegetables such as cauliflower, green beans, and potatoes.

In addition to increasing your fibre intake, make sure you are staying adequately hydrated. Water plays a crucial role in softening stools and aiding digestion. Aim for a minimum of eight glasses of water per day, or more if you are physically active or live in a warm climate.

By avoiding empty-calorie, low-fibre foods and adopting a diet rich in high-fibre options, you can help soften your bowel movements and improve your overall health.

Frequently asked questions

If you are experiencing constipation, which is defined as having fewer than three bowel movements a week, you may need to soften your stool. Constipation can also cause straining, abdominal bloating and pain, and difficulty passing stool.

There are several potential causes of constipation and hard stools, including dehydration, a lack of fibre in the diet, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), certain medications, and pregnancy.

Increasing your fibre and fluid intake, as well as getting regular exercise, can help soften your stool. Natural laxatives such as olive oil, aloe vera juice, and epsom salt can also be effective.

There are several over-the-counter laxatives and stool softeners available, including psyllium, docusate sodium, and magnesium citrate. However, it is important to use these products with caution and only as directed, as overuse of laxatives can cause diarrhoea.

If you have made lifestyle changes, such as increasing your fibre and fluid intake and getting more exercise, and are still experiencing constipation, you should consult your doctor. You should also seek medical advice if you have constipation lasting longer than three weeks, blood in your stool, or other concerning symptoms.

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