One of the most embarrassing topics for patients in my exam room is bowel health. People don’t seem to want to talk about constipation or flatulence in front of anyone, including their doctor.
It also happens to be one of the most important topics, because it can tell us so much about digestive health.
Today I had the privilege of talking to Dr. Anish Sheth, an attending physician at the University Medical Center at Princeton and co-author of the book "What’s Your Poo Telling You?" about how to improve your bowel habit as we move into spring.
One of the great things about spring is it is a time when people are looking at getting moving and becoming more healthy. Let’s see how Dr. Sheth recommends that we use that momentum to improve our bowel health as well.
Women tend to be more bashful when it comes to talking about bathroom habits than men. Sheth said, “It is important to have blunt discussions with your doctor about your habits and what is really going on with your bowel movements to improve your health.”
One common problem is constipation. There are two factors to consider when talking about bowel movement frequency and consistency. Constipation is defined as having a bowel movement less than three times per week, from a frequency standpoint.
To understand consistency, Sheth recommends using the Bristol Stool Form Scale to help teach people about normal vs. abnormal poop.
The scale ranges from one to seven. Anything that falls between three and five is considered normal. Soft and smooth like a sausage or a snake is considered ideal at four.
One good way to reduce constipation can be through exercise or move movement. As the weather turns warmer, exercise becomes easier to do.
Exercise is a wonderful way to stimulate peristaltic waves that urge the bowel movements down the digestive tract. So bowel habits improve with exercise. Try to aim for 30 minutes of regular, continuous exercise four to five times per week.
According to Sheth, another benefit of spring and summer is an abundance of foods that are high in fiber. More fiber makes for better bowel movements.
Sheth recommends 20 grams of fiber per day.