What’s the best way to improve digestion? Many doctors and nutritionists will tell you to ease up on processed carbs, saturated fat, and food additives, all of which can raise inflammation in the body and increase your risk for certain digestive diseases. You might also be told eat more fiber, drink more water, and consume more probiotic-rich foods, such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha.
All of these suggestions are excellent in terms of their ability to boost your digestive health. However, there’s another important trick that may help alleviate bloating, gas, and other forms of digestive upset: stretching.
As explained by AXA Health, light physical activity can increase blood flow to the muscles in your digestive system. This in turn improves peristalsis, or the wave-like muscle contractions that help move food through the digestive tract, from the esophagus to the intestines. In addition, research has shown that exercise fosters the growth of good bacteria in the gut and enriches the diversity of all gut bacteria, which translates into better overall health.
Rigorous stretching, on the other hand, may actually worsen symptoms, especially if you suffer from a digestive disorder. Sticking to light exercise and stretching should therefore provide you with the digestive benefits you’re looking for without giving you heartburn or a stitch in your side.
When is the best time to stretch, and how long should it take? Research suggests that there are ample benefits to stretching first thing in the morning, as it can relieve any tension or pain from your sleeping position the night before. Stretching will also increase blood flow and start you off on the right foot before your first meal. As for how long a session should last, longer is typically better. However, since most people are pinched for time in the mornings, even just 10 minutes should do the trick. To begin your journey to better gut health, check out these four stretches for digestion.
Legs on the Wall
If you’re feeling a bit bloated or gassy, this yoga pose is a great go-to. It helps relieve tension on a number of areas in the body and effectively reverse many effects of gravity.
Perform this stretch by sitting on the floor facing the wall, pushing yourself as close to it as possible. Then, lie down on the ground with your back on the floor. Swing your legs up onto the wall and scooch yourself in, so that your body forms a 90-degree angle. Stay in this position for about two to four minutes, focusing on deep breathing.
Seated Spinal Twist
While this movement is designed to stretch the muscles in your back and reduce strain on the spine, it may also alleviate bloating and help get the digestive system moving. To begin, sit on the ground with your legs straight out in front of you. Bring your right leg up toward your stomach and cross it over your knee, placing your foot on the floor near the outside of your left thigh. Next, twist your torso to the right and place your right hand behind you. Bend your left knee and tuck your foot beneath your right thigh. Gently hold this stretch and breathe deeply into the position for about five or six breaths. Repeat on the other side.
The happy baby is another pose that can reduce bloating, ease stomach cramps, and aid in blood flow to the bowels. To perform this movement, lie down on your back and pull your knees into your chest. Reach your hands up to your feet and grab the outside edges of your feet or your big toes. Pull down on your feet to feel the stretch, and if you feel comfortable, push your heels toward the ceiling to deepen the stretch in your hips and groin. Breathe into this position for about eight breaths. If you cannot reach your hands up to your feet, try the knees-to-chest pose instead. While your back is still on the floor, simply hug your knees to your chest and breathe deeply.
Cat and Cow
The cat-and-cow pose is a yoga classic designed to improve posture and balance and alleviate back pain. Many people also believe that this pose aids in digestion by gently massaging and moving the digestive organs.
To do this stretch, first get into a “tabletop” position, with your hands and knees on the ground. Make sure your knees are directly below your hips and your hands are directly below your shoulders. Maintain a neutral spine by keeping your head and neck parallel to the ground. Then, breathe in and arch your back, lifting your chest forward and your face to the ceiling. After several moments, breathe out and curve your spine, letting your head drop in toward your belly. Repeat these cat-and-cow movements several times at your own pace.