Regularity can be boring, if not reassuring, in most life experiences, but it can make your day when it comes to bowel movements. What better way to get your day off to a good start, even determining your outlook and mood, than an efficient and restful bowel movement. When your bowel movements don’t move all that well, a source of irritation and stress, it seems imperative that we know more about it and how we can attain relief.

We take our bodily functions for granted. When things aren’t working quite right, we too often grin and bear it or seek OTC relief at the drug store instead of educating ourselves on what may be wrong.


How Food We Eat Is Processed and Removed…

The evacuation of solid waste from the human body is an efficient journey of some 20 feet. It starts with the food we consume, an amazing process that requires just a few hours for the body to extract nutrients and liquids from the food. Some of that extracted, especially nutrients, go into the bloodstream and storage cells for bodily maintenance. What’s left is waste for disposal. Excess liquid ends up in the bladder for subsequent disposal from there. The high-water content solid waste is then squeezed along a circuitous route of about 20 feet through both intestines, arriving for temporary storage in the colon. More water is removed there, and when enough waste builds up, perhaps a day or two from the start of its journey, it is excreted from the body in what is discreetly called a bowel movement. The moist waste is essentially lubricated, and the evacuation of the waste requires minimal effort. If the waste dries out too much for whatever reason, evacuation can be more stressful.


Constipation: Obstruction, Infrequent or Incomplete?

The standard view of constipation is the inability of difficulty of passing stool or fecal waste from the body which results in straining with varying degrees of difficulty. Others regard constipation as irregular or infrequent discharge of the stool or incomplete emptying of the bowels— small and multiple bowel movements when one should suffice. These are essentially different kinds of constipation, often with different causes.


What’s Normal and What’s Constipation?

Equating irregularity with constipation is one reason for the confusion in determining what is normal. Contrarily, a daily or regular bowel movement does not necessarily constitute a normal bowel movement. How much, how little and what kinds of food you eat are factors. So is your daily activity and exercise level and, as in all things concerning your body’s efficiency— age. Regular bowel movements, for example, every morning and every evening, are often indicators of good health. It is also true that one person can have two or three bowel movements a day and another two or three times a week and both be considered normal. The bottom line it there is no strict definition of constipation.

It is when the fecal material is sitting in the colon, drying out and hardening, that constipation occurs. Drying and hardening waste at some point makes it difficult to pass the stools, with all the stress and discomfort that is associated with constipation. So, in this sense, normal is when stool passes easily and is neither too hard nor too soft. Constipation is when strain is required, and the stool is dry and hard.

—If there is a rule of thumb defining constipation and severe constipation medically it would be this: Fewer than three bowel movements a week is constipation and less than one weekly is severe constipation.—

Only one to three bowel movements a week are clearly cause for concern, when many healthy individuals report doing so three times a day or 21 times a week, even more.


Improving Your Chances at Avoiding Constipation…

Lack or water, fiber and exercise are the chief causes of constipation when disease and side effects from medication for certain ailments are not factors. That means lifestyle changes may be key in improving your chances for normal bowel movements. Make sure you have sufficient fiber in the food you eat and that you drink plenty of water.

Note: According to a study published through the National Institutes of Health and based on 2014 data, 16 percent of all American adults and a third over the age of 60 are dealing with chronic constipation.