It’s 3pm and you’re trying to finish that urgent report that your boss has demanded by the end of the day. You’re wriggling around trying to get comfortable, wondering if it’s socially acceptable to undo the button on your pants when your shirt doesn’t quite cover it. You’re hoping your coworker at the adjacent desk can’t hear your intestine singing away. It’s the same old story: it’s the afternoon and you’re bloated. Again. You can’t work out why; you’ve scrutinized your diet and tried eliminating this, that and the other, but even the watery soup you had for lunch seems to have triggered it.
It’s not an unfamiliar scenario for many of us struggling to pinpoint what exactly might be causing our uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing digestive woes. There are more diets around than ever before and you’re not alone if you find the whole process of trying to determine what you should and shouldn’t be eating to be anxiety-inducing. Ironically, so much so that the effects negate any health benefits you were hoping to reap (stress affects the stomach, people!)
What if I told you that it might not be your diet at all? I mean, the average person could probably eat a little cleaner, sure. But the average person is also far too sedentary for his or her own good and this is causing more issues than sneaking in the odd candy bar every now and then. Humans weren’t designed to sit still all day, but we subject ourselves to it and it’s causing an overwhelming number of problems for us. Desk-based jobs, online shopping and the ability to get just about any type of food delivered to our doors at any hour or the night of day means that we’re walking less and less and that, my dumplings, is a problem. It’s not glamorous and we don’t like talking about it, but at the end of the day, we all have the same organs with the same problems that arise from poor lifestyle choices. Let’s stop shaming our guts for going through such a rough time, huh?
As well as messing with our circulation, mood, and back amongst other things, slumping over a screen for hours on end wreaks havoc on our digestive tracts. The most obvious cause of the problems is the overall compression that comes when we’re seated; especially when this is accompanied by poor posture, as is the case for the majority of us. This slows down the digestive process and when that happens we can experience things like heartburn and bloating as our meals are prevented from moving through us as well as they would like to be.
There are other issues at play though, such as the inactivation of insulin production caused by sitting still. When the body doesn’t maintain control over blood glucose levels, the likelihood of inflammation increases, as well as the risk of associated metabolic diseases such as diabetes.
Then there’s constipation. A 2014 study conducted on students looked at a possible link between rates of physical activity and constipation. Researchers found that 14% of teenagers who were considered to be getting satisfactory levels of exercise reported symptoms of constipation, while the figure was 19.6% in those who were inactive. Another study in 2003 surveyed adult women specifically and found that of those surveyed who reported constipation (hereby defined as two or fewer bowel movements a week) were consuming less fiber and getting less exercise than those who weren’t.
Constipation isn’t the only symptom of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) though. Others include bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. A study found a direct link between exercise and the reduction of these symptoms in middle-aged and elder adults. It was also noted that irregular breakfast habits tended to contribute to the reports of bloating.
One line of thinking that’s often little-considered is the impact of inappropriately relaxed or weak abdominal muscles on distention, or the build-up of food in one particular part of the digestive tract. When this happens, our gut microbiota comes out to play in full force, which results in a fermentation overload that can cause unpleasant bloating and flatulence. A 1994 study also found this to be the case; patients who were reporting bloating were more likely to have weak abdominal muscles and have recently gained weight. There’s also evidence that lumbar lordosis (often referred to as an anterior pelvic tilt) can cause abdominal distention as was noted in a study of female subjects suffering with IBS.
So what can be done, you ask? A lifestyle change might just be the answer to all of your problems. It doesn’t necessarily mean quitting your office job, but try with all your might to increase your movement. Get up at least once every half an hour throughout the day and do a lap around the office, or mosey down to the lobby and back. Stretch those muscles and look into things like getting a standing desk or orthopedic office chair. And importantly, when it is time to hit the gym or do your at-home workout, don’t forget those abs!
Do you suffer from bloating when you don’t get enough exercise? What’s your favorite office workout?
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