All sorts of factors can affect your bowels. The way you live your life, the way you feel, the amount of exercise you take, whether you drink alcohol or smoke and of course what (and how) you eat all can have an impact on bowel health.
Exercise can help stimulate the activity of your colon, helping push more food waste through your bowels more quickly. Exercise also helps you to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Bloating and constipation tend to be more common if you're overweight. Moderate-intensity activity, such as brisk walking, for 30 minutes a day, on most days of the week, is enough for you to enjoy the health benefits.
Stop smoking. You know it's bad for you. It increases your risk for a number of cancers and can contribute to ulcers and increase your risk of Crohn's disease. Air swallowed during smoking can also produce bloating from gas. If you have tried to quit smoking unsuccessfully, try again and enlist professional help. Calling the Quitline on 131 848 is the best place to start.
One or two drinks a day may do you no harm, but excessive drinking increases your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and cancer and plays havoc with your bowel movements. Anyone who has had one too many alcoholic bevies knows how "upset" your bowels can be the next day.
Prevention is better than cure avoid binge drinking or regular heavy drinking. If you do decide to have a big night out (or in) pace yourself, drink water between alcoholic drinks and plenty of water before you go to bed to avoid dehydration.
For the record, national health guidelines recommend that if you choose to drink alcohol you should limit yourself to no more than one standard drink a day if you're a woman, and no more than two if you're a man. Plus, both men and women should aim to have at least two alcohol-free days a week. A standard drink is equal to a medium glass (250ml) of regular strength beer, a small glass of wine (100ml) or a nip of spirits.
Your emotions have a huge impact on your bowels. Researchers talk about the brain-gut axis. Many of the nerve-muscle messengers in the gut are similar to those in the brain and reactions can be triggered by various emotions. This is why many people get diarrhoea when they are nervous.
So take time to relax. When you're stressed your digestive muscles exert less effort, digestive enzymes are secreted in smaller amounts and passage of food waste through your digestive tract slows. This can cause bloating and constipation. Stress can also do the opposite speeding the passage of food through your bowels, causing abdominal pain and diarrhoea.
Stress and anxiety can also worsen symptoms of conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis. You can stress less by doing things that will help you relax. These include meditation, gentle yoga, taking a long walk or a soothing bath.
Use medications wisely. Many medications can affect your bowels. For example, tablets containing codeine taken for pain relief can cause constipation. High blood pressure drugs can cause diarrhoea or constipation, and some antibiotics can cause diarrhoea. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) including aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen can cause nausea, stomach pain, stomach bleeding, ulcers or diarrhoea if you take them regularly or exceed the recommended dose.