Drink More Water, Be More Regular

When your body doesn't get enough fluids, especially water, the result can be hard, dry stools and chronic bouts of constipation. Drinking coffee, caffeinated beverages, and alcohol only exacerbates the problem. Because water is your body's principal chemical component and makes up nearly 60 percent of your body weight, adequate water intake each day is essential to keep your body functioning normally. In addition to keeping bowel movements regular, water keeps the body from becoming dehydrated, which can drain your energy levels and make you feel tired.

Each day, you lose water through your breath, perspiration, urine, and bowel movements. To keep your body functioning at top level, doctors generally recommend that you drink eight to nine cups of water—or another type of fluid—every day. While water is best, other beverages such as milk and juice, which are composed mostly of water, are also good choices. Foods, such as fruits and vegetables, also provide the body with fluid.

Staying Regular

Constipation is defined as having a bowel movement fewer than three times a week. Constipation can be painful because stools are usually hard, dry, small in size and difficult to pass.  And while constipation is common—more than four million Americans suffer from frequent constipation—if you experience acute (recent onset) constipation, or if you have other symptoms, including rectal bleeding, abdominal pain and cramps, nausea and vomiting, make an appointment to see your doctor for an evaluation.

In addition to lack of fluids, not getting enough fiber in your diet, lack of physical exercise, taking certain medications, a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome, and the overuse of laxatives can also contribute to constipation.

Following a few simple steps can relieve the symptoms of constipation and prevent recurrence of the problem.

1. Drink plenty of liquids, at least eight to nine cups of water each day.

2. Eat a well-balanced, high-fiber diet that includes beans, bran, whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables.

3. Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, on most or all days of the week.

4. Make time after breakfast or dinner for undisturbed visits to the bathroom.

5. Unless your doctor has specifically recommended a laxative for you for a limited amount of time, most people with mild constipation do not need laxatives, which can lead to an over-reliance on the medication and become habit-forming.

5. See your doctor whenever a significant or prolonged change in your bowel habits occurs.