Exercises for a fitter digestive system

14 March 2010

To tie in with Bowel Cancer Awareness Month's 'Let's Get Moving' theme, personal fitness coach Lucy Wyndham-Read looks at what type of exercises are good (or bad) for our digestive system, and suggests a special new routine to try.

Exercise not only helps us look good on the outside; it's a great way of helping us stay healthy on the inside, including maintaining a healthy digestion.

A healthy digestive system prevents us feeling bloated, constipated and sluggish, and a few simple steps can help improve our daily digestion.
Regular exercise helps to maintain a healthy weight, and research suggests that the more physical activity we do, the more likely we are to decrease our risk of developing bowel cancer.

Below are some digestion-friendly tips and a special exercise routine designed to assist the process of 'peristalsis' - a series of organized muscle contractions that move food along the digestive tract.

Tip 1: Walk to good digestion
After a light meal or a snack, go for a brisk walk (after a heavy meal, wait an hour before setting off). By walking, you will improve your metabolism, as well as giving your digestive system a kick-start. Note that it is important to walk and avoid any high-impact activities, such as trampolining or running.

Tip 2: Reduce stress

Stress can weaken your body's resistance, immune system and digestive performance, which can leave your feeling tired, bloated and lacking in energy. A good way of beating stress is to ensure that you are doing some form of exercise on a regular basis.

Tip 3: Drink for digestion
Drink a glass of water after every meal or snack to help flush out toxins and aid digestion.

Tip 4: Avoid rigorous aerobic exercise
While digestion is taking place, it is important to avoid certain types of high-impact exercise, such as running, kick boxing, trampolining, dancing and team sports. These exercises can upset the digestive system and cause discomfort and stitches, so stick to walking and other low-impact physical activities.

Digestive exercises routine: the Super 3

This specially designed exercise aids digestion by assisting peristalsis, a process involved in digesting food. Peristalsis is the involuntary muscle movement in the gut that helps us digest food by massaging it along the digestive track.

You can perform this routine straight after a light meal or snack. After a heavier meal, wait about 30 minutes before you begin.
It's recommended that you use a mat or towel when performing the exercises to protect your knees while you are kneeling. 

Exercise 1

This exercise is fine to do after a small meal or snack. It is important that you do not rush this, so focus on performing this movement in a slow and controlled manner.

Come down onto all fours, and place your hands directly under your shoulders. Your knees should be directly under your hips. Ensure your spine is straight.
Very slowly, extend your right arm so it's in line with your shoulder. At the same time, lift your left leg so your heel is in line with your hips. Aim to create a straight line from your right arm all the way through to your left foot.

Hold this position for a second, then very slowly start to bring your right arm in underneath your body, at the same time as drawing in your left knee.
Allow your back to arch as if you are being pulled up by a belt. Hold this for a second then, on the same leg and arm, repeat for a minimum of ten times. Then rest and repeat both sides.

Once you have completed this routine, follow straight on to the stretching exercises. These will help reduce any feelings of bloating and at the same time help to massage the stomach muscles, which will aid the peristalsis process. 

Exercise 2

Turn over, so you are now lying on your back on your mat or towel.

Simply bend both your knees into your chest and hug them, for a second. Now, very slowly, extend one leg out straight while still hugging onto one knee. Then draw the straight leg back in and switch.

Your head and shoulders remain on the floor throughout this exercise. Repeat this 10 times. 

Exercise 3

Finish off by taking both feet back down to the floor and slowly extending the legs straight out on the ground so you are lying flat.

Slowly extend your arms past your head, so they are still on the floor. Now stretch, making yourself as long as possible - this releases any pressure in the gut. Hold this stretch for 10-20 seconds.