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When it comes to exercise, it is no surprise that it will benefit your health but is there a true link between your exercise level and the frequency of your bowel habits?

When it comes to passing your stools, we have already seen that there are a few different reasons why you can have this type of phenomenon. Certain foods cause frequent bowel movements that you need to be mindful of to make sure you pass your feces adequately [1]. Another point of curiosity for many patients coming to clinics would be the relation between exercise and the frequency of bowel movements. Here, you will discover if there is a link between the intensity and consistency of your training and the frequency of your trips to the bathroom. 

Does Exercise Make a Difference on Bowel Habits? 

When it comes to exercise, there is a double-whammy effect that happens when a person decides to live a more active lifestyle. The more you exercise, the more likely you are going to have a healthier diet. The decision to train your body can steer you away from starchy fast foods or greasy burgers, which is excellent - it is not only good for your short-term health but also for your long-term health. [3]

This previous point is no new revelation, but we are still without an actual link between an exercise routine and the number of trips you make to the bathroom. In one study, researchers put this exact question to the test. In this investigation, ten healthy volunteers ranging between the ages of 22 to 41 were asked to partake in a study for three weeks time. Participants were asked to either sit on a resting chair, jog on a treadmill or cycle on a stationary bicycle for 1 hour. During this period, each participant cycled through each activity for one week and the researchers compared their final results at the end of the investigation. They were also asked to eat a specific diet with radioactive isotopes added so the investigators would be able to track the stools of the participants. 

At the conclusion of the study, it researchers determined that the time it took for food to pass from mouth to toilet for participants just resting in an armchair was around 51.2 hours. However, those who were active had better stool passing times: 

  • participants who cycled were able to have a bowel movement within 36.6 hours
  • runners passed their feces in only a 34-hour passage. 

As it should be obvious now, there is a noticeable difference exercise can make on the bowel habits of any person. [4]

Why Does This Happen? 

The reason that exercise and bowel movements are linked is because of a few different reasons. One of the first connections that you can make is that when you exercise, your metabolism will be much more active compared to when you are sitting and resting. A faster metabolism will accelerate all components of your digestive tract from digestion, absorption, and expulsion. According to a separate study, women tended to have more of an impact compared to men when it comes to faster metabolisms and increased stool production. [5]

Another critical reason why we have more evident bowel movements after exercise is due to the primary function of the large intestine. The small intestine is primarily responsible for absorbing fats, vitamins, and nutrients but what makes the large intestine irreplaceable is the fact that it is responsible for consuming large quantities of water [6].  During times of aerobic activity, tissues demand more levels of water so intestinal motility will increase in order to help meet the physiological needs of our muscles while we exercise. 

The last pathway that I will point out to you to explain the connection between exercise and frequent bowel movements lies in the innervation of the system to make everything happen. During exercise, the sympathetic nervous system is predominately activated throughout the body to allow muscles to process and use glucose and oxygen to the maximum capacity. This system also allows us to breath more deeply and essentially shuts off our desire to go to the bathroom. 

After you have finished exercising, however, your sympathetic nervous system is no longer dominate but instead transitions to the parasympathetic nervous system. This system is in charge of helping you rest and digest the food that you need to replace the lost energy. You will also now likely have the urge to defecate because the parasympathetic nervous system also is responsible for your desire to pass stools. These nervous pathways work in synergy throughout the day, so your body can work as efficiently and effectively as possible. [7]

As this point, you should have a solid understanding that exercising will increase the number of trips you make to the bathroom. You should also be able to grasp some of the mechanisms at play that is causing this to occur. 

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