Find yourself reaching for the laxative? There are exercises which can help tackle bowel issues, explains Dr A R Vanitha Senthil
It has been estimated that nearly 40 percent of the elderly get affected by age-related gastrointestinal health problems each year, resulting in frequent instances of bowel disorders and discomfort.
As people get into their 60s and 70s, one of the most common things they experience is change in bowel habits. They could have difficult, painful or irregular bowel movements. Or there could be bowel obstruction or faecal incontinence.
Bowel disorders could manifest themselves as –
Constipation – when bowel movements become less frequent or stools become difficult to pass or there is incomplete evacuation of stool.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – a fairly common disorderthat is signalled by abdominal pain, cramping diarrhoea, gas, bloating, constipation.
Many bowel movement problems in elderly adults are partially cause by inactivity. They can be eased and alleviated with exercise.Exercises can strengthen the rectal muscles which may help with bowel control in people who have an incompetent rectal sphincter.Like any muscles in the body, the more you use and exercise them, the stronger the sphincter muscles will be.
There are specific exercises that focus on the anal sphincter muscle. Practising these exercises on a regular basis can improve control over bowel function and reduce episodes of leakage and soiling.
Sphincter muscle exercises – I
Sit comfortably with your knees slightly apart.
Now imagine that you are trying to stop yourself passing wind from the bowel. To do this you must squeeze the muscles around the back passage.
Try squeezing and lifting that muscle as tightly as you can, as if you’re really worried that you are about to leak. You should be able to feel the muscles to move. Your buttocks, tummy and legs should not move at all.
You should be aware of the skin around the back passage tightening and being pulled up away from your chair. Really try to feel this. You are now exercising your anal sphincter. The important point to be noted is you need not hold up your breath when you tighten you’re muscles.
Now imagine that the sphincter muscle is a lift. When you squeeze as tightly as possible, your lift goes up to the fourth floor. But you cannot hold it there for very long, and it will not get you safely to the toilet as it will get tired very quickly. So now squeeze more gently, take your lift only up to the second floor.
Sphincter muscle exercises – II
Sit, stand or lie with your knees slightly apart. Slowly tighten and pull up the sphincter muscles as tightly as you can for at least 5 seconds and relax for 4 seconds. Repeat for 5 times. This is for the strengthening of muscles.
Next, pull the muscles up to about ½ of their maximum squeeze. See how long you can hold this for and relax for about 10 seconds. Repeat twice. This will work for endurance of muscles.
Pull up the muscles as quick and tight as possible, then relax and pull up again. Continue till you get tired. Repeat until you get tired.This will work on the reaction of the muscles.
If you find that the muscles “let go” too quickly and that you cannot hold for a count of 5, just hold them as long as you can. Use this as your base line. Try not to –
Squeeze your buttocks together
Bring your knees together
Hold your breath
Lift your shoulders, eyebrows or toes