Having a healthy bladder and bowel is something that many of us take for granted. With maybe the odd off day here and there, a regular cycle of bowel and bladder activity requires little thought. However, there are times when this regular rhythm can be thrown off. Illness, stress, age, weight gain, and other factors can impact the health of the digestive and urinary process. It can be an unpleasant experience having to deal with poor bladder and bowel health. Thankfully there a variety of incontinence products that can assist you. There are also steps you can take to ensure that you remain regular and healthy, and in this article we’ll examine how to maintain a healthy bladder and bowel.
Our bodies are very sensitive to our lifestyles. Although we can endure a lot, prolonged mistreatment can result in vital organs protesting. With our insight on maintaining good digestive and urinary health, you will hopefully reduce your risks of ill health in these areas. We’ll look at the factors that impact a healthy bowel and a healthy bladder in turn, and provide some tips to incorporate into your daily lifestyle.
How to Maintain a Healthy Bowel
Your bowel and digestive health are impacted by the food you eat and the lifestyle you lead. This means that there are simple steps you can follow to help you maintain a healthy digestive system. Not only this, many of the steps can help your overall wellbeing.
Eat a balanced diet
We all know that a good diet is important for your overall health. Your bowel and digestive system are on the front lines of dealing with the food you consume and are therefore very sensitive to these factors. A healthy, balanced diet is crucial to digestive health.
What foods should you eat?
Eating high-fibre foods is a good way of keeping regular. It can relieve constipation and helps you maintain a healthy weight. Dietary fibre can also lower your risk of heart disease and diabetes. Some foods you should try and incorporate into your diet include:
- Wholegrains and cereal.
- Fruits, nuts, and seeds.
- Oats, potatoes, green beans.
What should you avoid?
Foods that are high in fat or deep fried are bad for your waistline and your bowel. Some other foods to moderate include:
- Too much dairy.
- Chilli peppers and other spicy foods.
- High amounts of caffeine.
Drink Enough Fluids
Another familiar piece of advice is to make sure you’re drinking enough water. There are many benefits that come from being properly hydrated, from helping you control calorie intake to keeping your skin looking good. One of the lesser known benefits is that it can help to maintain normal bowel functions. Being well hydrated can prevent constipation.
What is the right amount of fluids?
There is still not enough evidence to claim a ‘correct’ amount of water to drink in a day. However, estimates range from around 1.2 litres to 1.9 litres of water (or other fluid) per day. That’s equivalent to around 6-8 glasses of water.
Limit the Amount of Alcohol You Consume
Many of us enjoy a drink or three throughout the week. Sometimes, the temptation is to abstain during the week, only to binge over the weekend. Sadly there are many health risks associated with drinking too much.
One lesser-known risk of consuming too much alcohol is the potential to damage the bacteria and microbes that live in your gut. Despite the habit of thinking of bacteria and microbes are bad, these gut microbiota are essential for digestion, the immune system, and even mental health. Alcohol, or an excess of it, can cause an imbalance of gut flora. This can result in toxins from the gut being leaked into the bloodstream, which can potentially damage your liver.
The only safe level of alcohol consumption is 0 units. However, official guidelines state that a ‘low risk’ level is under 14 units per week. This equates to around 6 pints of average-strength beer or 10 small glasses of wine that is low-strength.
Chew Your Food Well
Properly chewing your food helps to break it down. This means that your digestive system has an easier time dealing with it. How much you chew depends largely on the type of food you’re eating, but as a guideline, softer foods should be chewed 5-10 times, whilst firmer foods should be chewed up to 30 times before swallowing.
Surprisingly there are a few different reasons you should chew your food well. The first is that it reduces the work your oesophagus has to do, making it easier to swallow. It also means your stomach can metabolise the food easier. It can also reduce the risk of bacterial overgrowth. This means that bacteria can’t grow out of control in the colon, reducing indigestion, constipation and bloating.
Don't Miss Meals
Skipping meals may seem like a sure-fire way to lose weight. However, there are many studies that have shown the opposite may in fact be the case. Furthermore, there are some negative consequences that can arise from missing meals, including an unhealthy bowel.
Missing meals can potentially result in peptic ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, stomach pains, and stress. Regular, healthy meals are important for reducing the risks of these. Leaving your stomach empty of everything except its natural acid can cause nausea, whilst eating regular meals at the same time each day is important in supporting digestive health.
Although exercising immediately after you eat is never a good idea, (and can cause digestive problems itself) there are certainly some benefits from exercising regularly. Of course, we’re all familiar with the importance of exercising to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle. However, this also includes our digestive health.
Along with a healthy, high-fibre diet, exercising regularly can strengthen your digestive tract, relieve constipation, and improve your digestive health whilst at rest. As with all things, moderation is important. You should also ensure that you stay hydrated whilst exercising.
How to Avoid Bowel Infections
Bowel infections aren’t fun, and they can soon become detrimental to your health. Diarrhoea, constipation, bloating, pain, and bleeding can all be signs of a bowel infection or bacterial gastroenteritis. Thankfully there are some steps you can take to minimise the risk:
- Eat plenty of fibrous foods, such as beans, whole grains, green vegetables and fresh fruits.
- Avoid unpasteurised milk, raw meat, and raw shellfish.
- Wash salads thoroughly, and chop meat and veg on separate chopping boards.
- Wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom, before handling food, and after touching animals.
- Drink bottled water when you’re travelling in foreign countries.
What Else Can Affect Your Bowel Health?
Below we’ve outlined some further elements that can impact your bowel health. Some you may be familiar with or have experienced yourself, whilst others may be surprising:
- Stepping out of your daily routine to travel can take its toll on your body. Digestively speaking, travel can make you less regular, make you more prone to IBS, and expose you to toxins that cause traveller’s diarrhoea. You can try to offset these effects by scheduling a specific ‘bathroom time,’ reducing stress whilst travelling, and drinking bottled water abroad.
- We’ve already mentioned how important your gut flora is. The microbes and bacteria that line your digestive tract keep your healthy in many ways. Unfortunately, antibiotics can’t tell the difference between healthy bacteria and infectious ones. By clearing these bacteria, you may end up suffering from leaky gut. This can cause liver and lymph system damage.
- The dangers of smoking are known by many, but we usually think of the lungs and mouth. However, studies have shown that smokers are at an increased risk of cancer of the stomach, liver, colon, and rectum, as well as Crohn’s disease, colon polyps, and pancreatitis.
- Recent studies have shown a close link between digestive health and sleep. We’re all familiar with the idea of an internal body clock, or circadian rhythm, but it appears our guts have one too. A disruption to our sleep patterns can influence the microbes in our bowels.
- We mentioned above how alcohol affects the stomach. Drinking too much can cause an imbalance in the microbes and bacteria of the bowel.
- A feeling that we can all relate to is the gut-wrenching sensation brought on by stress. Having too much stress in our lives is detrimental to overall health, including our digestive health. Stress takes its toll on all aspects of the digestive system, and can cause inflammation, nausea, diarrhoea and constipation.
- We’ve already mentioned the importance of drinking enough fluids. When you’re dehydrated, your bowel absorbs more water from food passing through. This means you’re more likely to become constipated.
- Getting Older. As we age, we become more at risk of bowel problems. Not only does the body change, it is a culmination of effects from diet, lifestyle, disease, and medication. By following the advice we’ve outlined so far, you will reduce the risk of suffering ill health.
How to Maintain a Healthy Bladder
Now we will take a look some tips to help maintain a healthy bladder. Much like with our bowel, lifestyle choices can play a big part in bladder health. It’s an organ that is not often considered until something goes wrong.
Let it All Go
When you urinate, it’s important to fully empty your bladder. Although time pressures can sometimes mean you simply need to get the process over and done with, taking the extra time to ensure you’re fully relieved is important. If you tighten your muscles to try and stop the flow too soon, remaining urine can be forced back up into the bladder. This has the potential to introduce bacteria, which could result in a bladder infection. Women in particular are prone to urinary tract infections, and should therefore take extra care.
Drink Plenty of Fluids
This is the second time we’ve mentioned drinking enough, and it’s equally valid for maintaining a healthy bladder. Guidelines state that in a 24-hour period, an individual should empty their bladder four to six times a day. Drinking plenty of water or other fluids is vital for maintaining this regularity. Without enough water, you may find that your urine becomes very concentrated and yellow. This can irritate your bladder and potentially cause a urinary tract infection. Depending on your level of activity and how hot it is, you should aim to drink between 1.5 and 2 litres of water each day.
Don’t Hold It In
All this talk of liquids may be prompting you that it’s time to empty your bladder. You should do so whenever convenient, and should avoid holding it in for long periods. Your bladder can hold around two cups of urine. Any more than this and you’ll start to feel very uncomfortable. Although resisting the urge to go isn’t usually problematic in a healthy bladder, in some instances it can cause urinary tract infections. If you suffer from an enlarged prostate, neurogenic bladder, kidney disorder, or urinary retention, holding it in puts you at a greater risk of infection or kidney disease.
Reduce Alcohol and Caffeine Intake
Once again alcohol and caffeinated drinks are on our list. Both can irritate the bladder, and reducing your intake of them can help to maintain a healthy bladder. As we saw with bowel health, small amounts in your diet don’t create much of a risk. However, high amounts can cause various troubles. Caffeine is a diuretic, meaning it rids your body of fluids. Drinking large amounts can result in you needing to urinate more frequently. Some studies have shown an increased risk of urinary incontinence in women being linked to high caffeine consumption. Alcohol is also a diuretic and can interfere with the normal functioning of the kidneys. You will need to urinate more frequently when drinking alcohol, which can leave you dehydrated and hung over the next day.
Do Pelvic Floor Exercises
Pelvic floor exercises can strengthen muscles under the uterus, bladder, and bowel. Your pelvic floor muscles run from your pubic bone to the base of your spine. Exercising them is often recommended for those suffering from urine leakage, as they can improve bladder control over time. These simple exercises, done by squeezing and releasing your pelvic floor muscles, can be carried out nearly anywhere, regardless of whether you’re sitting or standing. The squeezing of these muscles (as if you were trying to stop passing urine) can also be done whilst you’re doing any activity that usually causes urine leakage.
Drink Cranberry Juice
Cranberry juice is delicious, and you may have heard the ‘myth’ that it can help reduce UTIs. Although the evidence delivers a conflicting view, drinking cranberry juice may well help your bladder health. One of the active ingredients in cranberry juice, A-type proanthocyanidins, has been shown to prevent bacteria sticking to the wall of your bladder. Whether or not there is enough of this ingredient in the juice to be effective is debated, but it certainly can’t hurt.
How to Avoid Bladder Infections
Now that we know a bit more about how to maintain a healthy bladder, it’s time to consider how to avoid getting an infection. Many of the points we’ve covered already are applicable here, but we’ll cover some general advice below:
- Hygiene. Keeping the area around your urethra clean is an important aspect in avoiding bladder infections. This is because they occur when bacteria enter the urinary tract. Wipe front to back, and ensure that you shower regularly. Avoid using strong soaps, as they can cause a pH imbalance that promotes bacteria growth.
- Ensure that you urinate after having sex. This will clear any potentially harmful substances from your urinary tract and prevent infection.
- Try to avoid wearing clothing that is unnecessarily restrictive or warm.Material that is not breathable should be avoided, as the moisture build up can create a breeding ground for bacteria. Wear light clothing, such as cotton underwear.
- Avoid long periods where you don’t urinate. We mentioned above the importance of clearing your bladder fully and not holding it in, so be sure to try and keep regular with your timing.
What Else Can Affect Your Bladder Health?
The best advice that we can give in terms of bladder health is to drink plenty of water. We’ve discussed ways to maintain a healthy bladder, as well as how to avoid infection. Below we’ve listed some further points of note that can impact your bladder:
- Weight. Carrying too much excess weight is never a good thing. It can have many health implications and complications, and the bladder is one area that is affected. Too much weight puts strain on the muscles surrounding your bladder, and can lead to stress incontinence.
- Medication. Although medications are meant to help solve health issues, there can be side effects that affect other areas of the body. Medication for high blood pressure or heart disease, diuretics, muscle relaxants, antihistamines, sedatives and antidepressants can all cause incontinence.
- Smoking. A study showed that women who smoke are three times more likely to develop urinary urge incontinence than those who don’t. The more women smoke, the more frequently and urgently they need to urinate. Furthermore, a heavy smoker’s cough can also cause stress incontinence.
- Constipation. We’ve covered constipation already, and its association with a lack of fluid. However, straining to go can also put undue stress on the pelvic floor muscles. This can result in stress incontinence.
- Inactivity. Studies have shown that exercising regularly, even lightly, can improve bladder control. Be sure to drink plenty when exercising however.
Bowel and Bladder Health: A Summary
It’s clear that bowel and bladder health are heavily influenced by our lifestyles. Many of the words of wisdom we were taught whilst young actually do ring true. For bowel health, a balanced and varied diet is important. High-fibre foods such as fruits, green vegetables, and wholegrains can go a long way to keeping you regular. Eating too much fat and drinking too much caffeine can cause constipation, whilst alcohol can damage your precious gut bacteria. As well as diet, hygiene, travel, stress, smoking, and antibiotics will all play a part in how healthy your digestive system is. Making small changes can definitely help, and an overall healthy lifestyle will give you a boost.
In terms of bladder health, much of the same advice applies. Drinking enough water, avoiding alcohol, and eating healthily can help to promote a healthy bladder. You shouldn’t put any unnecessary strain on the muscles that surround your bladder, through excess weight, holding urine for too long, or straining through constipation. Picking up a urinary tract infection, and thus developing a bladder infection, can be prevented by drinking cranberry juice, keeping clean, and fully emptying your bladder on a regular basis.
By following the advice we’ve explained in this article, you can improve and protect the health of both your bladder and your bowel. What’s more, many of these lifestyle changes will have positive impacts in other areas of your life. Eating well, drinking plenty of water, sleeping well, and exercising, is old but valuable advice.