Staying hydrated is important to keep things moving smoothly and to prevent constipation. Fluids promote healthy digestion by lubricating food waste so that is passes more easily through the digestive tract. The traditional recommendation to drink eight glasses of water a day is a good place to start, but you might need more. The color of your urine is a good indicator of hydration. If you are properly hydrated, your urine will be very light yellow. If your urine is darker, this means you need to drink more fluids.
While it is important to stay hydrated throughout the day, try to drink fluids between meals as much as possible because drinking too much with meals can dilute your gastric juices. This can make your stomach acid and digestive enzymes less effective, possibly compromising your digestion. It is also a good idea to drink at least one to two cups of water as soon as you wake up to rehydrate yourself and “wake up” your organs.
The body has a switch that allows us to work in two different modes: parasympathetic (rest and digest) and sympathetic (fight or flight). When our body is stressed and in sympathetic mode, the production of stomach acid, digestive enzymes and bile for digestion is impaired. The default mode for our body should be our parasympathetic system (rest and digest) as it allows for repair and maintenance work. This mode is also responsible for setting the conditions for healthy digestion.
We all know that stress is inevitable; however, it is important to learn how to react and cope with it. You can implement small strategies into your daily life to cultivate a healthy mind and put your body in “rest and digest” mode. The following techniques can offer big benefits to your mental and physical health: practice belly breathing, find a “happy place”, spend time in nature, practice body scanning, make a gratitude list, watch funny YouTube videos, practice yoga, meditate or find an enjoyable hobby or pastime. I find that keeping pictures of loved ones close by always helps to put things in perspective and to remind myself of what truly matters.
Good sleep is needed to allow our bodies and digestive systems to heal and function optimally. Most people need between eight and nine hours of sleep and it is important to go bed at roughly the same time each night, ideally before 9:30 or 10:00pm.
If you have difficulty falling asleep, make sure you avoid lights or keep them to a minimum one to two hours before bedtime. This includes the television and computer so keep in the habit of taking a warm bath before bed in a dimly lilt bathroom or a read book beside a small table lamp. The trouble with too much light before bed is that it decreases melatonin, a hormone that makes us naturally sleepy within a few hours after sunset.
It is also important to get natural sunshine during the day and to make your room as dark as possible at night so that your body can synchronize with its natural rhythm. Artificial light disrupts our normal rhythms so it is important to also remove any night-lights, alarm clocks or other light sources in your room.
Exercise is a great tonic for the mind, body and stomach. It helps to alleviate stress, speed up digestion and increase blood flow to all of your organs. Aerobic exercise (exercise that increases your breathing and heart rate) is very beneficial for healthy digestion; it stimulates the natural contraction of intestinal muscles which helps to move food through your intestines more rhythmically. It is important to exercise for at least 30 minutes every day.
Avoid strenuous exercise after a large meal as digestion requires a large amount of blood flow to your stomach and intestines. If this blood supply is not available, the likely result is heartburn, bloating and constipation. However, a short walk at a slow pace after eating stimulates digestion and can relieve uncomfortable bloating.
As we work to cleanse our body with natural and organic foods, we need to make sure we are not amassing a great deal of toxicity from our sources. Scientific evidence increasingly finds chemicals in everyday products like cleaning supplies, beauty care and cosmetics, home furnishings, plastics, food and even toys. These toxic chemicals harm our bodies and ecosystems. It’s important to analyze what we put in our mouths, what we put in our skin, what we use in our homes and what we put down our drains. The Environmental Working Group website is a good resource for becoming informed and learning how to limit our chemical exposure.