Healthy living

Bowel health

What are bowels?

Your bowels make up part of your lower digestive tract and consist of your intestines, rectum and anus (bottom).

Your rectum is where stools (poo) are stored. Your brain sends messages to your rectum when it is full and needs to be emptied.

Benefits of good bowel health

Emptying your bowels easily is an important part of good bowel health and can help keep the muscles that control your bowels active and strong.

You should aim to:

  • go to the toilet between 3 times a week to 3 times a day
  • do well-formed smooth poos which are easy to pass
  • avoid straining on the toilet. 

Most people learn good bowel habits (when and how to go the toilet) when they are young and develop strong pelvic floor muscles (the muscles that control bowel movement) during early adulthood.

Some people may experience problems as they get older. Chronic constipation, chronic coughs, heavy lifting, childbirth and menopause can weaken your pelvic muscles and lead to:

  • straining on the toilet
  • poor bowel control (incontinence). 

How to keep your bowels healthy

  • Learn how to empty your bowels without straining.
  • Make sure you drink enough water.
  • Eat a healthy and varied diet.
Illustration of person sitting on toilet

How to empty your bowels without straining

  • Sit on the toilet properly:
    • keep your back straight, lean forward
    • rest your forearms on your knees
    • have knees higher than hips by lifting heels or using a footstool keep your legs apart.
  • Brace – allow your stomach muscles to push forwards. This will help you widen your waist.
  • With each urge to empty your bowels, repeat the brace.
  • Keep your mouth slightly open and breathe out. Do not hold your breath.
  • As you finish, pull up your anorectal muscles (the muscles that control your bottom). This will improve your ability to close your bowels.

Drink enough water

  • Drink up to 8 glasses of fluid per day e.g. water, milk, soups and juices.
  • Limit caffeine drinks to 2 per day.
  • Eat food high in soluble fibre (pasta, rice, vegetables and fruit).
  • Limit foods high in insoluble fibre (bran and muesli). Too much can bulk out your poo and make them hard and difficult to pass.

Eat a healthy and varied diet

Some fruit juices, such as pear, apple and prunes, can help keep your bowels regular.

Find out more about healthy eating.

Where to get help

  • See your doctor.
  • See your physiotherapist.
  • Ring healthdirect Australia on 1800 022 222.

Remember

  • Your bowels make up the lower part of your digestive tract.
  • Good bowel health is important for people of all ages.
  • Eat a healthy and varied diet to keep your bowels healthy.

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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