How Exercise Makes You Need to Go
Bowel Movements and Your Workout
America appears to have a problem going to the bathroom. In a study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, researchers found an alarming increase in constipation related hospital visits to the emergency room. From 2006 to 2011 emergency room visits from people who couldn't find relief, increased an amazing 41.5%; from 497,034 to 703,391 per year.
There are several factors that contribute to being "backed up." Many of them, diet and health related, have increased as America's obesity epidemic grows. Simple things like diets low in soluble fiber and a lack of exercise are two major contributors. (For the record, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease, classifies constipation as having less than three bowel movements a week.)
To many peoples surprise, when they start exercising, they find they may need to visit the bathroom more often. If you're not accustomed to regular movements, the sudden increase can seem unusual or worrisome. Don't worry, it's normal. Here are some typical reasons exercise makes you "gotta go."
Movement, especially the up and down jostling our bodies receive when jogging, running or doing activities like jump rope, send signals to our intestines. As they're being jostled around, the stimulation can act as a trigger. After 10, 20 or 30 minutes you may suddenly have the urge to go and need to find a restroom NOW.
The intensity of your exercise matters. When you run, blood flow is directed away from the digestive system and toward working muscles. If you're engaged in an especially vigorous run, up to 80 percent of that blood flow is redirected. That diminished blood flow can cause a loss of control to your bowels. It's your body's way of reacting to the stress of exercise. The more intense your run, the more blood that's directed away and the more likely you'll need to go.
Strength training exercises help move things through your system quicker. The speed that foods move through your body is called "transit time." An untrained 60 year old man can boost his transit time from 44 hours to as little as 20 hours, simply by engaging in regular workouts with weights.
Emotional triggers can cause problems for people, especially in competitions. The stress of preparing for a race or run, pre-race anxiety, even a leisurely walk if it's in a group setting can all lead to bouts of "nervous diarrhea."
Other factors that can change the frequency include dehydration, changes in hormone levels and diet. Many people fail to make the connection between changes in their diet when they exercise and their bowel movements. It may be something as simple as an increase in soluble fiber. As your body adjusts to the dietary changes, most people will see some regularity return.
There are steps you can take to control and reduce sudden urges to go.
Start by making it a habit to visit the bathroom before you exercise. You might not be successful at first, but over time your body will get used to the attempts.
Cut back or eliminate sugar free foods with the sugar alcohols sorbitol or maltitol in them. Both those ingredients can cause diarrhea in people who are susceptible. You might also want to limit foods with inulin (a type of manufactured fiber) too.
Make a chart of your food and drink. Track the time it takes from eating things to see if there's a reliable connection between caffeine drinks, juices, fruit, higher fiber foods or milk. Consider eliminating things that are linked, or taking them in at other times during the day.
Drink more water. Exercise causes sweating which can lead to dehydration. It's too much water that causes diarrhea, not too little. Keep water close by and drink it regularly to prevent a problem.
Common sense should prevail. If you're experiencing pain, bleeding or other gastro-intestinal problems, see a doctor. Make sure any increased frequency is a beneficial side effect of exercise and not something more serious.
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