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Five Steps to Better Digestive Health

04/20/2015 05:50 EDT | Updated 06/20/2015 05:59 EDT
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Spring is the perfect time to refresh and renew with simple steps towards better digestive health. The body constantly requires adaptation in response to related periods of life, the change of seasons, as well as everyday environmental and lifestyle factors. My advice to combat these changes includes maintaining a healthy digestive system. I'm thrilled to share with you my top five steps to refresh and renew your digestive system this spring season.

Food Choices

Our digestive health is greatly influenced by the foods and beverages we eat (and overeat). Did you know we have 10 times more bacterial cells inside of us than we do human cells, and most of those are in the gut? I call it the gut ecosystem. Eating a variety of nutritious foods with fibre and probiotics is my top recommendation to promote digestive health. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables are great sources of fibre. Women should aim for 25 grams of fibre per day and men should aim for 38 grams per day. Start slowly, adding more fibre every few days, and drink lots of water. This will help prevent the gas, cramping and bloating that can occur if you add fibre too quickly. Fermented foods and cultured foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi and sourdough bread all contain some level of probiotics. Probiotics are friendly bacteria and they help improve the ratio of good to bad bacteria in your gut ecosystem. So follow your gut instinct and fuel your body with a daily dose of foods high in fibre and probiotics.

Stay Hydrated

Healthy digestion requires adequate fluid intake. The human body contains about 60 per cent water and the more muscular and younger you are the more water your body contains. The brain, lungs, heart, liver and kidneys all contain water -- about 65 per cent to 85 per cent -- and the bones contain about 31 per cent! Water has many crucial roles in the body including the digestion and absorption of nutrients. Many factors such as exercise, weather, weight and health affect how much water is right for you. The eight glasses (8 ounces) of water per day rule is supported by some nutrition researchers and challenged by others. The Institute of Medicine determined that an adequate intake (AI) for men is roughly 3 litres (about 13 cups) of total beverages a day. The AI for women is 2.2 litres (about 9 cups) of total beverages a day. The Mayo Clinic suggests one way to make sure you are properly hydrated is to check your urine. If it's clear, pale or straw-coloured, it's okay. If it's darker than that, keep hydrating. Try adding lemon or cucumber slices to water for a refreshing twist. Decaffeinated herbal teas are also a great way to hydrate.

Be Active

A healthy lifestyle includes activity and a fitness strategy. Just 30 minutes of activity a day will promote digestive health. Being active accelerates digestion as it stimulates your system and assists with the action of the intestines. Plus, adding a fitness strategy to your healthy lifestyle will provide a more positive mood and energetic body. When we exercise there is a release of chemicals, called beta-endorphins. These chemicals enhance a state of euphoria, commonly referred to as a "runner's high." As part of your fitness strategy, exercise at least 30 minutes a day, doing activities you enjoy, such as walking, biking, hiking and strength-building activities. In addition to cardio and weight-training exercises, incorporate lifestyle activity every day. Take the stairs rather than the elevator, walk to work and conduct a walking meeting with colleagues. All these small activities can make a big difference.

Restful Sleep

Another significant factor in the healthy digestive system equation is sleep. I'm a person who needs at least seven to eight hours of unbroken sleep to be at my best. And research confirms this is true. It's recommended that adults get 7.5 to 9 hours of restful sleep each night. When we get less than 7.5 hours, it has negative influences on both our mind and body. Not getting enough sleep can cause a decrease in the appetite-suppressing hormone leptin and can increase the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin. This is not good news! This change can make us crave high sugar, salty and starchy foods leading to overconsumption and promoting negative effects on digestive health. Rest allows your body, including your digestive system, to renew and refresh. I recommend developing a relaxing routine before going to bed at the same time each night.

Manage Stress

Stress has a direct effect on digestive health. Taking care of your emotional well-being is important for your physical well-being. Stress can affect the way the digestive system functions. Depending on the way your body reacts, stress can cause the passage of food through the digestive system to slow down or to speed up, which can cause constipation, abdominal pain and/or diarrhea. Too much stress can also worsen symptoms of digestive health conditions including irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis. Throughout the day your body and mind need time to refresh and renew. Build a few 10-minute mini relaxation segments into your daily routine and a longer meditative period at the beginning and/or end of the day. Implement what works best for you.

These simple steps as part of a healthy lifestyle will have you feeling renewed and refreshed - ready for the spring season!

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