In recent years many products have been touted for rejuvenating the intestinal tract and enhancing digestive health through "colon detoxification and cleansing." But don't overlook exercise. Refined, processed, low-fiber foods, animal fats, chronic stress and a lack of physical activity are the foundation for a host of gastrointestinal diseases, including colorectal cancer, heartburn, diverticulitis and constipation. Proper digestion, absorption of nutrients and elimination of waste products are aided by a good exercise program and healthy diet.

Digestive problems can occur at any weight, but bloating, heartburn, and constipation are more common in people who are overweight. Extra pounds increase presssure within your abdomen and force stomach acid (reflux) into your esophagus. This reflux of acid produces heartburn - a burning sensation in your esophagus. Excess weight also can predispose you to gallbladder disease and colon cancer.

The Exercise Tonic

Exercise is a great tonic for the mind, body and stomach. Exercise helps to control weight and prevent constipation. Aerobic exercise (exercise that increases your breathing and heart rate) and deep breathing exercises are very beneficial for healthy digestion, because they stimulate the natural contraction of intestinal muscles, helping to move food through your intestines more quickly. Avoid heavy exercise after a large meal. Digestion requires a large amount of blood flow to your stomach and intestines. Digestion will be put on hold while blood is redirected to the heart and muscles during exercise. With the reduction in blood supply to the gut, the gut muscles contract less vigorously, digestive enzymes are secreted in smaller amounts, and the transit of food waste shifts into slow motion. This can lead to heartburn, bloating and constipation.

Stress can cause a similar shift in blood flow away from the gut as muscles tense and heart rate accelerates, demanding more oxygen delivery to the active muscles. Daily exercise is a well-known stress buster through a variety of mechanisms including boosting the release of endorphins - the "happy" hormones. The same neurotransmitters and receptors that dictate mood in the brain exist in great abundance in the gut and influence digestion.

This information has been published by The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.