Robyn Brennen MPhys, BPhys(Hons), BMid Continence Physiotherapy @ the digestive health centre
Coronavirus Restrictions and Bladder and Bowel Function
Stage 3 and 4 restrictions have been challenging for us in many ways. Limitations on going out, seeing people and exercising impact on many areas of our health and is it important to be mindful of what we can do to maintain and improve our health in these times.
Physical activity, food intake and fluid intake all affect our bowel and bladder health. If like me, you’ve been drinking more coffee because you’re at home, or because you need to do something to take a break from your screen, then you might have noticed an increase in how often you go to the toilet for your bowel or you bladder, and that it is a little (or a lot) more urgent than it used to be.
On the other hand, if you’re doing a lot less moving around, walking or other physical activity, than you normally would, you might have noticed your bowels getting a bit sluggish and perhaps have developed some constipation at this time.
Here are some straightforward steps that you can do to keep your bowels regular during the restrictions:
1. Stay in routine
It can be really hard to get yourself motivated to get up at your normal time when you’re not going out of the house to see people or to go to work. But getting up at the same each day is really helpful for your bowels. The same hormones that regulate our sleep-wake cycle also stimulate our bowels in the mornings, just as we’re waking up. This is why a lot of people open their bowels early in the day. Other things that you can do in a morning routine to help your bowels to activate in the morning are to have a hot drink, eat a high-fibre breakfast and move around (walking, dancing, housework or other upright physical activity, as long as you’re not sitting down or lying down) for 20minutes. Combining these activities in a routine is a good way to stimulate your bowels and keep things moving inside you gastrointestinal system.
Regular exercise is very important for good bowel function and for almost every aspect of your health. Try to do 30-60 minutes of moderate intensity cardio exercise each day. You can split this up into 10-minute sessions or do it in one go. Remember that we can now exercise for up to 2 sessions outdoors each day, and there are also lots of options to exercise indoors, even if you don’t have equipment: put on some tunes and dance around, download and aerobics video, march on the spot and do 10 minutes of walking up and down your stairs or corridor. If you have any medical conditions, always talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise to make sure that the exercise is safe for you to do.
3. Don’t go to the toilet ‘just in case’
When we are at home all the time, we walk past our toilets a lot more and this might trigger the desire to go to the toilet, even if we don’t need to. This can lead to increase bladder frequency and urgency, which may start to be a problem when we’re allowed to go out a lot more and we’re not always near to a toilet. Unless you have a specific medical problem or are doing a timed bladder training program with a health professional, you should never go to the toilet unless you actually need to go. It’s a good idea to go to the toilet when you have a moderate urge, rather than just because you’re bored or you have just walked passed the toilet and think you might be able to go.
For more information on bladder and bowel health visit the Continence Foundation of Australia website at www.continence.org.au. If you have are having problems with constipation or decreased bladder or bowel control you may benefit from seeing a pelvic health or continence physiotherapist for bladder, bowel or pelvic floor training. Talk to your GP or specialist about these problems and ask if they can refer you to a physiotherapist with specific training to help you.