How often should you poop? If you’re wondering whether it’s normal not to poop every single day, or if it’s normal to feel like you’re pooping all the time, well…it’s normal to wonder. And it turns out that like many things in life, how often you should poop is an individual thing. Doctors say that bowel movements vary from person to person and are based on a variety of factors like activity level, age, diet, and if you have any medical conditions such as
irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease.
To answer the question of how often you should poop, it is good to know something about bowel transit time, which refers to how long it takes for food to move from the mouth to the end of the intestine (the anus).
“It can take roughly anywhere from two to five days for food to be fully digested and exit the body,” according to the Cleveland Clinic. When you eat, food goes through the stomach and small intestine. This process alone can take from six to eight hours. From there, food enters the large intestine.
Once food enters the large intestine, it can take around 36 hours for food to be fully digested before you are ready to have a bowel movement. A bowel movement is the very last stop in the movement of food through the digestive tract. A stool comprises what is left after your digestive system has absorbed all of the fluids and nutrients from the beverages and foods you have consumed.
If you have a daily diet that consists of adequate hydration and you consume a decent amount of fiber, your bowel movements should be a very short occurrence. As for how frequently you should poop, there’s what the experts say.
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But really, how often should you poop?
As mentioned, the frequency of bowel movements can vary among individuals and is influenced by many factors, such as diet, lifestyle, and overall health, explains Sameer Islam, MD, a functional gastroenterologist at Lubbock Gastroenterology. (He also talks about all kinds of ins and outs of poop on his popular YouTube Channel.)
The frequency of bowel movements depends mainly on what you eat, how food and waste move through the digestive system and other predisposing conditions like current medications and medical history.
“I want to stress, however, there are no set rules for how often one should poop; most people have a regular pattern that ranges from three times per day to three times per week. That is considered normal.”
Dr. Islam says what is most important is how you feel when you are constipated. “If you have a bowel movement every day, but do not feel like you are emptying everything, you are constipated to me. On the other hand, if you have a bowel movement three times per week but are happy with it, I would not treat it,” says Dr. Islam. “Generally, if you are having regular bowel movements without any discomfort or excessive strain, and your stool consistency is normal (neither too hard nor too loose), there is usually no cause for concern.” Not sure if the consistency is normal? Take a look at the Bristol Stool Chart to evaluate your poop health.
Factors that can affect how often you poop
If you find yourself dealing with a bout of being backed up, it may be due to age. Older adults may experience decreased bowel movements due to age-related changes in the digestive system, changes in diet and hydration, and reduced physical activity notes Dr. Islam.
However, this rule is not universal. Some older adults may maintain regular bowel habits even as they change and grow older.
Certain medications can also affect bowel movements. “Some drugs, such as opioids used for pain management, can cause constipation by slowing down the movement of stool through the intestines,” shares Dr. Islam. “Antidepressants, antacids containing aluminum or calcium, and certain blood pressure medications may also contribute to constipation.”
If you have a chronic illness like IBS, you may notice your bowel movement pattern can shift from frequent bowel movements to feeling constipated.
Not moving around
Finally, reduced mobility, such as bedridden or limited physical activity, can have an impact on bowel movement frequency. “Physical activity helps stimulate bowel movements by promoting muscle contractions in the intestines,” explains Dr. Islam. “When mobility is restricted, the lack of exercise can slow down bowel motility, potentially leading to constipation.” However, it is worth noting that these factors are not absolute and can vary among individuals.
How can you have more frequent bowel movements?
There are several lifestyle factors that can help promote more frequent bowel movements and help you maintain a healthy digestive system. If your usual frequency isn’t feeling helpful to you, here are some expert-approved strategies for changing it.
#1 Avoid delaying bowel movements
When you feel the urge to have a bowel movement, Dr. Islam says do not delay it. “Ignoring or postponing the urge can lead to stool becoming harder and more difficult to pass. Responding promptly to the body’s signals can help maintain regularity.”
#2 Consider probiotics
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can help promote a healthy balance in the gut and are found in foods like kefir, sauerkraut, and yogurt, as well as in supplements. “Probiotics may help improve digestive health and regularity for some individuals, but it is best to consult a healthcare professional before starting any supplements,” shares Dr. Islam.
#3 Do not scroll on social media while on the toilet
Spending excessive time sitting on the toilet can lead to prolonged sitting in a position that can strain the muscles and nerves around the pelvic area, explains Dr. Islam. “This can contribute to issues like hemorrhoids, reduced blood flow, and numbness. Minimizing the time spent on the toilet is generally recommended to avoid these issues.”
#4 Eat plenty of fiber
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), recommends 38 grams of fiber for men up to age 50 while men older than 50 should have 30 daily grams. You probably need more than you’re taking in: The average American only gets about 10 to 15 grams of fiber per day. It’s not that hard to have more: Check out these 30 high-fiber foods to add to your grocery list and four easy ways to consume more fiber daily. You may also consider taking a fiber supplement for an added boost to your health and wellness routine.
If you are aiming for more frequent bowel movements, aim for a diet full of fiber from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. This will help you to have more bowel movements regularly.
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Should you see a doctor?
How often you should poop really depends on the individual. If you find yourself going every morning like clockwork after your first cup of coffee, then great, but if you find yourself going less frequently, do not be alarmed. Most people have a bowel pattern that is regular for them.
If you are concerned about the frequency and regularity of your bowel movements, you can always schedule an appointment with your doctor. And you should schedule one right away if you notice a significant and persistent change in bowel movements, such as a sudden change in color, consistency, or an increase or decrease in frequency, says Dr. Islam.
Another reason to seek medical attention immediately is blood in the stool. “Whether bright red or dark and tarry, blood in the stool should never be ignored,” shares Dr. Islam. “It can indicate various conditions, including anal fissures, colorectal cancer, hemorrhoids, or inflammatory bowel disease.”
Other warning signs and symptoms include abdominal discomfort or pain, unexplained weight loss, and family history and risk factors. “If you have persistent or recurrent abdominal pain or discomfort not relieved by over-the-counter medications or other self-care measures, it is worth discussing with your doctor,” says Dr. Islam. Abdominal pain can be a symptom of various gastrointestinal conditions.
Also, if you have a family history of gastrointestinal conditions or if you have other risk factors, such as colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, or a personal history of polyps, it is essential to have regular check-ups and discuss any concerns with your doctor, recommends Dr. Islam.
Poop and Overall Health
Although bowel movements are an important part of health, the frequency of bowel movements alone is not considered the best indicator of overall health, notes Dr. Islam. Instead of focusing solely on the frequency of bowel movements, he typically considers other factors when assessing overall health.
These factors may include stool color and consistency, as well as any presence of blood. Other symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, cramping, fatigue, and weight loss that are associated with changes in bowel movements are all important to consider.