Deficient Exercise

The relation between exercise and breathing and the necessity for vigorous and untrammeled action of the diaphragm have been already referred to in the preceding paragraphs. Exercise promotes bowel action, not only by aiding respiration and inducing vigorous movements of the diaphragm, but by calling into strong action the muscles of the abdomen, and by raising the general muscular tone of the body.

The excellent effects that walking has upon bowel activity are well known. Riding is also of great advantage in the same way. These exercises, as well as many others, mechanically stimulate the colon as well as all parts of the intestinal tract, by communicating to it a continued series of slight shocks, by which reflex movements are excited. The active play of children is as necessary to maintain proper bowel action as for muscular development. The movements of skipping, hopping, jumping, are especially useful, because they induce sudden vigorous contractions of the abdominal muscles, and vigorous diaphragm movements by which the colon is compressed and stimulated. The folk dancing of the middle ages, which has been revived in recent years, is for the above reasons to be highly commended as a health measure. It is important, however, to make a clear distinction between the varied and vigorous movements of the folk dance, in simple dress and under wholesome conditions, and the monotonous and restrained movements of the social dance, in full dress and under conditions always physically, and not infrequently morally, unwholesome.

Those whose occupations are such as to give them plenty of exercise are fortunate in being able to lead lives which in large measure conform to natural requirements. Such persons never need suffer from constipation if they eat proper food, drink an abundance of water - at least three to five pints daily - and take care to give the bowels an opportunity for movement after each meal, and promptly whenever there is a "call" for evacuation.

Those who are compelled to lead sedentary lives, and especially women, whose lives are nearly always more or less sedentary in character, must take daily and regular exercise of a sort calculated to benefit the bowels if they would escape the evils of constipation and its secondary results. Some of the special exercises which have been shown by experience to be of greatest service in combating constipation will be described in a subsequent chapter. The exercises of greatest value are those which strengthen the abdominal muscles. A spring abdominal supported will usually render great service (page 298).

Resisting The "Call"

The practice of resisting the "call" of Nature to discharge from the body accumulated wastes and rubbish is almost universal among civilized people, as the result of refinement of manners and modesty which lead to the concealment of certain animal functions as much as possible. That this is the result of what is commonly called false modesty cannot be denied, and yet there are few who would desire that this so-called false modesty should be altogether laid aside. It is important, however, that every person, children as well as adults, and at a very early age, should be fully instructed respecting the evil results of resisting and thus thwarting one of the most important of the bodily functions. .

The "call" signifies that the pelvic colon is full of feces, and that a sufficient amount of fecal matter has been pushed down into the rectum to arouse the center of defecation and cause it to set in operation the automatic processes concerned in bowel movement. The colon is contracting, and there is a tendency for the anus to relax, which must be forcibly resisted to prevent immediate discharge of feces. The feces are normally stored in the pelvic colon, the portion which lies just above the rectum. So long as they remain here, there is no desire for movement, but when a portion of fecal matter has been pushed down into the rectum, the time for evacuation has come, and the fact is indicated by a more or less urgent "call." When the feces are fluid, they reach the lowest part of the rectum at once, and the "call" is a very urgent one; but if they are of normal consistency, they are at first retained in the upper part of the rectum, and the "call" is less imperative, and may be suppressed by strong resistance.

If, for any reason, the bowels are not permitted to move at once, the "call" usually disappears after a few minutes, and may not reappear until after the next meal or even the next day. In the mean-time, the feces which have entered the rectum lie there, and through the absorption of water by the intestines become each hour drier and harder, so that when the "call" comes again as the result of more feces being forced into the rectum and further distention produced, evacuation may be difficult or impossible without mechanical aid.

It is possible, also, that the fecal matters which have been carried down to the lower part of the colon may be returned. It is not probable that this occurs to any great extent, however, for new installments of feces are continually coming down from the upper part of the intestine, and hence the feces simply accumulate, first in the pelvic colon, then in the iliac and ascending colon, and finally in the transverse colon, and even in the cecum and ascending colon.

Although the bowels may be permitted to move when the next "call" occurs, the colon may not be fully emptied. The colon contents may by this time have become so dry and hard that the colon cannot be emptied by an ordinary effort. Thus there is left a residue in the pelvic and descending colon, which is likely to increase from day to day, or at least as often as there is failure promptly to answer the "call" to evacuation.