Spending more time at home means a lot of us aren’t walking nearly as much as usual. No walks to the subway, no spontaneous lunchtime walks with coworkers, and no walks from the car to your dinner destination. As someone who lives in New York City, it’s not usually hard for me to get my steps in, but since I hunkered down at my parents house in Buffalo, I’ve transformed into a socially distant sloth. And my gut can tell—farts, aggressively loud tummy grumbles, and stomach pain have become the norm. Gastroenterologist and internist Niket Sonpal, MD, says I’m not alone.
“During quarantine our diets are very much disturbed, our mental health is not good, we are not exercising enough, and our routines are disturbed. All of these factors throw off the motility of our GI tract, and change the natural flora that live there,” says Dr. Sonpal. “Walking and exercise contract the abdominal muscles but sitting around for long periods does not. Just a simple walk will contract your belly muscles and help push out gas and stool and keep you regular. Once you are regular gas and bloating will subside.”
And if you’re also noticing more farts, Dr. Sonpal says that’s to be expected. “When the GI tract is not moving enough, due to sedation or a poor diet, poop sits for longer and produces more gas,” he says.
Being sedentary can have adverse effects on anyone’s digestion, but Dr. Sonpal says it may be more noticeable in those who used to be more mobile.
“Any sudden change in activity can lead to motility issues of our gut,” he says. “Throw in the anxiety of social isolation and and poor diets you are looking at the perfect storm for IBS or bloating.”
Since digestion occurs, ya know, after eating, does this mean movement for digestion has to occur after a meal?
“It depends on the degree of activity,” says Dr. Sonpal. “Big exercise routines should be before meals. But a calm soothing walk after a heavy meal can do wonders for digestion too! In general all movement is good movement as long as it’s within the ability of the person and isn’t causing pain or discomfort.”
Walking for digestion can also help regulate your blood sugar.
“After eating, food must be broken down into forms of energy for the body to use,” says Adam Feit, PhD, assistant director of performance nutrition with Precision Nutrition. “Research has shown that as little as ten minutes of post-dinner walking can improve blood glucose levels compared to other times during the day.”
If you haven’t been moving much and you’re noticing some digestion issues, Dr. Sonpal suggest getting some daily activity. While the amount and level of exercise will differ depending on joint and cardiovascular health, 10 to 20 minutes of a good heart-rate raising workout will do the trick.
“This will also elevate your mood and help the abdominal muscles contract more,” he says. “This will get the bowel moving and expel stool and flatus.” And who doesn’t want that?
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