Maintaining A Healthy Bowel


Receive custom tools to help you manage your condition and get the latest in bladder and bowel health from NAFC!

What Is A Healthy Bowel And How Can I Maintain It?

Before we discuss what it takes to maintain a healthy bowel, it’s worth asking if you know what the signs of a healthy bowel movement actually are. 

Don’t be insulted if that sounds like a silly question. Even though we’ve all been pooping since the day we were born, what goes on down there can actually be more complicated than you realize. 

The best way to tell if there might be an issue is to take a good look at what you’re leaving behind. Don’t get squeamish now – you’re already there, you might as well take a moment for a little forensic examination. 

What Does Healthy Poop Look Like?

The first thing to look for is blood – if you notice any, that’s a sign to get a doctor involved. It could be the result of something as commonplace as hemorrhoids, but it could also be a sign of something more significant, like Crohn’s disease, colitis or even cancer. Don’t take the risk that it could be nothing when the truth is that it could be something. 

But wait – your examination isn’t done. Next you’ll want to take a look at the consistency of your poop – is it solid, loose or somewhere in between? There’s actually a very specific way you can quantify this, through the Bristol Stool Scale. This is a handy-dandy chart created by the physicians at the Bristol Royal Infirmary in the United Kingdom back in 1997, and since then it’s become a standard clinical tool used around the world. 

Take a look at the chart below – types 3 and 4 are considered normal and are generally a sign of good digestion. Types 1 and 2 usually indicate constipation and may point to conditions where constipation is a common symptom. And on the other end of the scale, types 5, 6 and 7 indicate diarrhea, urgency and their associated conditions.

Next, you’ll want to look at the color. Normal poop can range from light brown to almost greenish, with a lot of that variation based on your diet and other factors. If you see black poop, though, it’s a sign that there may be something wrong, because it’s often the result of decomposed blood. There are some supplements like iron that can also turn your stool very dark, but if you’re seeing something outside of the normal range, it’s a good idea to get checked by a medical professional. 

Take note of the smell – if it’s particularly unpleasant (relative to normal unpleasantness, of course!), it may indicate that you’re not digesting food or absorbing nutrients properly. 

Finally, think about how you feel when you go. Are you straining or pushing to empty your bowels? If so, you may be experiencing constipation. A normal bowel movement should occur naturally without a lot of strain. Everyone gets constipated once in a while, but if this is a common occurrence, you may want to talk to your doctor about how you can address it.  

Tips For Keeping Your Bowel Healthy

Even if you don’t have a chronic bowel condition, you can appreciate how important it is to maintain a healthy bowel: Nobody wants to deal with irregularity, constipation, bloating, gas or worse. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be difficult to keep your digestion in good shape; it’s certainly a lot easier than going to the gym! Here are a few tips to promote better bowel health:

  • Avoid triggers – Avoid foods you’re allergic or sensitive to. Even if you’re not lactose intolerant, avoiding dairy can be a good idea because it can be constipating. 
  • Eat a healthy diet – If you eat a balanced diet, you probably already get enough fiber to stay regular. Still, high-fiber foods can be helpful, and eating lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains is good for overall health, as well.  
  • Don’t forget the water – Drink plenty of fluids so you stay hydrated, but you don’t have to go overboard. About 90 to 125 ounces a day should be sufficient for most people. (Want to know if you’re getting enough water? Read our post to learn a trick for knowing when you need to drink more.)
  • Engage in physical activity – 30 minutes a day of physical activity is great for just about everything your body does, including digestion. It doesn’t have to be intense either – walking at a brisk pace is a great exercise to start with. (Learn how to start a walking group here!)
  • Make time for bowel movements – Don’t try to rush things. Make sure you give yourself enough time on the toilet to help you keep a regular schedule.
  • Use a stool – There are actual stools designed for propping your feet up slightly when you use the toilet. This puts you in an ideal position that can make it easier for you to pass a bowel movement. But you don’t need to buy anything special – any thing that can prop your feet up a few inches – a footstool, box, or even a stack of books – will do the job.