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Health system expert offers bowel-health advice for seniors
Physical therapist Megan Beahm uses a pelvic model to illustrate how the bowels work.

The University of Kansas Health System recently presented an educational session on “Better Bowel Movements” at the Great Bend Senior Center. Megan Beahm, who has a doctorate in physical therapy, focused on pelvic health and constipation during a 30-minute event.

“The bowels are slow learners and want a daily routine,” Beahm said. “It isn’t good to suddenly quit a habit or add a new habit.

“For example,” she said, “if you drink two pots of coffee a day and then stop doing it, your bowels won’t like it. Or if you are getting a small amount of fiber and then start consuming a lot of it, the bowels won’t like that either.”

Foods rich in fiber include oatmeal, popcorn, apples, bananas, raspberries and lentils.

“If you currently get only five grams of fiber a day, it’s not good to immediately jump to the recommended 25 to 35 grams,” Beahm cautioned. “It’s better to gradually increase the amount of fiber you consume.”

It is also important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids each day. “We recommend people talk to their doctor about the amount of fluids that are appropriate for them,” Beahm said.

Another topic was exercise and its effect on bowel movements.

“When you move, it helps get your bowels moving,” Beahm noted. “If you have strong abdominal muscles, it can help you push without straining. Your doctor or physical therapist can suggest a few easy techniques to help with this.”

Timing of bowel movements and being relaxed are important factors too, she said.

“If you eat varying portions at different times, do at least one consistent thing each day, such as having a bowl of oatmeal in the morning.”