by Geri Walton ~ December 29th, 2008
Digestion is important to overall health. In fact, many doctors believe poor digestion is at the root of many illnesses. If a person suffers poor digestion long enough, their body may not absorb needed nutrients, and they may develop vitamin and mineral deficiencies, which then results in illness and disease. Some of the most common signs of digestive problems are bloating, belching, flatulence, diarrhea, constipation, hearburn, abdominal pain, or nausea. As poor digestion continues symptoms can include lethargy, allergies and food sensitivities, autoimmune disorders, inflammation, or even cancer. To improve digestion and allievate unwelcome symptoms, two simple steps can be taken, and they include proper posture and simple exercises.
You may be wondering how posture plays a role in digestion. It’s because digestion is aided by proper body alignment. For instance, if you don’t stand or sit properly, you force your abdomen to try and do it’s job in less space because other body parts move into the abdomen’s area when you are hunched or slumped over. To prevent this, when you stand keep your neck straight, your shoulders level, and your pelvis and feet properly aligned. You also have to sit correctly when you eat. Don’t slouch or hunch over your food, and make sure to bring the food and utensils to your mouth rather than bend to the food. Additionally, your feet should be flat on the floor, your back should be properly supported, and your hips should be level with your knees.
The digestive system has muscles, and, if these muscles are weak, they cannot perform peristalsis properly and cannot move food and fecal matter through the body correctly. Exercise helps digestion in two ways. First, when you develop strong core muscles, your digestive tract can operate more efficiently because core exercises strengthen the muscles needed for good digestion. Strong muscles also help increase abdomen space, and, just as exercise can make your legs stronger, it may also help develop stronger muscles that aid in the digestion process.
Second, certain types of exercise, such as yoga, benefit the digestive tract because they help eliminate trapped gases, increase blood flow to the digestive tract, and stimulate and encourage intestinal peristalsis. Many yoga poses also massage internal organs, keep digestive organs in shape, and encourage proper operation of the digestive tract. Yoga is also good at encouraging relaxation and relieving stress, and when you are relaxed and stress-free, your digestive tract may function better.
Core Muscle Exercises
Exercises for digestion include core muscle exercises such as abdomen and back strengtening exercises. There are several abdomen exercises that are easy to do and extremely effective in improving abdomen strength. For instance, San Deigo University did a study and rated several abdominal exercises on effectiveness in strengthening the abdomen. The number one exercise for the abdomen was the bicycle crunch exercise. Click here to see this exercise. When it comes to the back, one of the best exercises is the back extension because it not only strengthens the back but also helps to eliminate back pain. In addition, it stretches the back muscles in complex ways. To see this exercise, click here.
Yoga poses massage internal organs and may improve kidneys, liver, and adrenal gland functions. Three yoga poses that are particularly beneficial to digestion include the cobra pose (bhujangasana), the half spinal twist (ardha matsyendrasana), and the hand to feet pose (pada hastasana). The cobra pose helps relieve stress and is also a great pose for people with back and menustral problems. It helps because it enlarges the chest and reduces stiffness in the back. To see this pose in action click here.
The half spinal twist is good for digestion because it strengthens the back, stretches the hips, rotates the spine, and tones spinal nerves and ligaments. This also helps to make space for the stomach. To see this pose, click here.
The final pose, known as the hand to feet pose, enhances digestion because when you bend over it increases abdomen space, stimulates the digestive tract, and massages internal organs. If you can’t do this pose standing, lie on your back and bring your knees to your chest. If you do the hand to feet pose five minutes daily, people often find their digestive tract starts to operate properly. To see this pose, click here.
More Information on Digestion
Besides the core exercises listed above, certain sports such as aerobics, pilates, or swimming are the most beneficial to build core muscles, and several other things can help. Besides incorporating proper posture and exercise into your life, these other tips may benefit you:
- Clothing. If your clothing is too tight it places the stomach under stress and pressure. When the stomach tries to operate in a cramped space, it can’t perform its function correctly.
- Digestive Aids. There are also several digestive aids that may help such as ginger tea or lemon squeezed into water. To learn more about these aids, read Natural Digestive Aids.
- Food Choices. There are also a few other quick tips that help improve digestion. Sometimes poor digestion is caused by poor food choices that stress and strain the digestive tract. To learn what foods help and hinder digestion, read Foods for Good Digestion.
- Kitchen Spices and Herbs. There are also many spices and herbs sitting in your cupboard that may improve digestion because they have carminative, soothing, and appetite-stimulating qualities. If you want to learn more about how spices and herbs may help, read Digestion: How Spices and Herbs Can Help.
- Standing Exercise. Another easy exercise to improve digestion can be accomplished while standing. To do it place the heel of your right hand under your rib cage and just above your hip bone. Move the heel of your hand slow across to the center of your naval. Repeat fifteen times and switch hands. The right hand movements help the liver and the gall bladder, and the left hand movements help the spleen, stomach, and pancreas.
- Stretching. Simple stretching often improves digestion, and the torso stretch is particularly effective because it twists, folds, and stretches the mid and lower torso. It helps because when done regularly it strengthens the pancreas and surrounding organs. To see this exercise, click here.
If you want to learn more about digestion and understand the complex relationships between gastrointestinal physiology, diet, and health, nutritionist Elizabeth Lipski has written an excellent book titled Digestive Wellness.