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In women, pelvic-floor dysfunction can also be a cause of constipation.michaeljung/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Few things in life are as satisfying as a good bowel movement – am I right? Unfortunately, many people are missing out because they are constipated.

Constipation essentially means infrequent or difficult bowel movements and, according to the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation (a charity providing information and services to Canadians suffering from digestive disorders), one in four Canadians have symptoms of constipation.

Healthy bowel movements are key for our overall health but also our pelvic-floor health. Constant straining from constipation can damage the muscles and nerves of the pelvic floor.

In women, pelvic-floor dysfunction can also be a cause of constipation. For instance, when the rectum starts to bulge into the posterior vaginal wall (called a rectocele – a form of pelvic-organ prolapse), it can make voiding difficult and incomplete and therefore may lead to constipation and straining. Staying on top of your pelvic floor health is a key part of optimal digestion and elimination.

Do you look at what you eliminate? You should. Check the Bristol Stool Chart to see how your poo measures up. You should aim for a four on the chart, but are doing pretty well if you range between three and five.

Not hitting the mark? What you eat has an effect on what you eliminate. About 75 per cent of your stool is water and the rest is cells, bacteria, fibre – essentially waste. You need to ensure you daily diet includes plenty of water and fibre (between 25 and 30 grams) and ensure it's a balance between soluble and insoluble fibre. A few of my favourites include chia seeds, beans, blackberries, flax seeds, apples, celery and popcorn. Remember to increase the amount of fibre in your diet gradually to avoid cramping and discomfort.

Dark chocolate (at least 72 per cent cocoa) can also help with elimination since it is rich in magnesium – a mineral that helps relax the muscles in the digestive tract.

Once you have nourished your body, you then move your body, because when your body moves, it stimulates the digestive tract. I am a big fan of walking – brisk walking on uneven terrain for at least three kilometres a day will not only help your digestive health, it will help your overall health.

Did you know that the toilet is contributing to our constipated society? Really, we should be squatting for effective elimination. In the squatting position, gravity does most of the work and the weight of the torso presses against the thighs to naturally compress the colon. Gentle pressure from the diaphragm supplements the force of gravity. Squatting relaxes the puborectalis muscle, allowing the anorectal angle to straighten and the bowel to empty completely.

Squatting on traditional toilets is a bit challenging, but there is a product called the Squatty Potty that makes squatting on the toilet easier.

Finally, a great solution if you are dealing with intermittent constipation is the "I Love U" massage, which involves stroking your abdomen along the intestines to help move things along.

To start, place your fingers under the left rib cage and stroke down to the front of the left hip bone (the "I"), do this 10 times using consistent, moderate pressure.

Next, form the letter "L" by stroking from the right ribcage, across to the left ribcage, and down to the front of the left hipbone 10 times.

Finish with 10 strokes in an upside down "U" from the front of the right hipbone up to the right ribcage, across to the left ribcage, and down to the left hip bone. Do this daily to help promote healthy movement of waste through your intestines.

Kim Vopni is known as the Fitness Doula and is an authority on helping women get through birth in one piece. Based in Vancouver, she is a certified pre/postnatal fitness consultant, co-founder of Bellies Inc. and owner of Pelvienne Wellness Inc. offering innovative products for a better birth and recovery. You can follow her on Twitter at @FitnessDoula.

Health Advisor contributors share their knowledge in fields ranging from fitness to psychology, pediatrics to aging.