5 Simple Tips For Better Digestive Health

Your digestive system is responsible for breaking down the foods you eat–helping your gut absorb nutrients that support your body’s functions, from hormone balance to energy production, mental health to skin health, and even toxin and waste elimination. 

And if that was not impressive enough, scientists have also found an increasingly clear association between gut health and overall health. 

Researcher has now shown that 70% of the immune system is housed within the gut wall! 

So–for the sake of optimising health and wellness, keeping your digestive tract running smoothly should be your top priority. Not sure where to start? Continue reading for the top 5 simple lifestyle changes that you can adopt immediately for better digestive health. 

#1 – Drink 30 minutes before your meal

Given that your digestive juices are liquid, it’s really no coincidence that you need to be properly hydrated to digest your food. That’s because water can help your body break up food. It can also help your food transit through your gastrointestinal tract, preventing bloating, constipation, and even acid reflux.

That said, you don’t want to drink during meal-time. 

Doing so will dilute your digestive juices and enzymes, which can adversely affect digestion and nutrient absorption. Instead, aim to drink a full glass of water 30-60 minutes before your meal. 

In addition to aiding digestion, drinking water before your meal can also help regulate your appetite as dehydration can cause feelings of hunger and water provides a sense of fullness.

#2 – Take 5 deep, slow breaths

You might have heard that your nervous system is made up of two parts:

  • Parasympathetic – ‘Rest and Digest’, the state we should be in for most of the day
  • Sympathetic – ‘Fight or Flight’, the state we need to escape from danger (hopefully not that often)

Both states are essential for your survival, and we switch between them as needed depending on what's happening.

As humans evolved, if we experienced a threat like a ‘Tiger’ chasing us, we could switch onto our heightened fight or flight state and save ourselves. Your blood vessels dilate, your blood pressure increases and all non-essential functions are reduced so your body can focus its resources on keeping you alive.

The problem, though, is that this heightened state is not suitable for digesting food or sleeping as you can imagine. Modern life moves at such a fast pace; it's hard for our brain to determine what's a threat and what's not.

One stressful phone call or even a negative thought can bring you out of your Rest & Digest state and some people spend most of their day like this, eating food on the go, checking social media, thinking negative thoughts, all of these things can bring you out of the optimal state for digesting your food which leads to poor digestion and ultimately inflammation! 

It can also cause elevated cortisol levels (the stress hormone) which negatively affects collagen production and many other things. 

So before you sit down for your next meal, try this simple exercise. It takes less than 2 minutes but can have a massive impact on your health and how you feel.

1. Make sure you’re sitting up straight and put one of both hands on your heart so you can feel it beating. Close your eyes if possible. 

2. Take a long slow breath in through your nose as you let your abdomen expand as your diaphragm draws in air. 

3. At the top of the breath, hold it for 2 seconds. 

4. Then slowly let the air out through pursed lips to slow it down. You should be blowing out for longer than you breathe in, ideally double the time. (The reason for the slow out-breath is this helps to activate your Rest & Digest, while fast breaths stimulate your Fight or flight) 

5. Repeat 5 times before you start eating.

#3 – Chew your food a few extra times

When you think about digestion, you’re likely to think of the work that happens in your stomach and intestine. But that’s just one part. Digestion starts in your mouth–with chewing. 

Chewing achieves two things (1, 2, 3). 

First, is mechanical digestion; this is just the physical act of breaking down food into smaller pieces. And the second relates to the fact that saliva contains amylase, the enzyme that helps chemically break down carbohydrates.

Accordingly, if you do not chew your food long enough, it is not exposed to amylase to break down the carbohydrates. And given that the stomach is ill-fitted to cope with carbohydrate digestion, you’re going to have issues when food gets there without being properly digested in the mouth. 

Insufficient chewing can also lead to large chunks of food ending up in your small intestine; this can lead to bloating, gas and discomfort.

So–because proper digestion starts in the mouth, make sure you chew your food thoroughly. 

#4 – Practice mindful eating 

If your schedule is typically packed to the minute, you’ll more often than not just eat where you can: in front of a computer, around a conference table–just about anywhere except a proper dining table where the focus is only on eating. 

But you really shouldn’t. 

That's because multitasking (e.g. eating while working on that Excel sheet) registers as stress in your mind, in turn, triggering the stress response in the body (4, 5). And as mentioned earlier, when the body is fighting or fleeing, it essentially puts the digestive system on hold.

The bottom line? For optimal digestion, try mindful eating.

That means you need to unplug. Avoid staring at your computer screen, talking on the phone, or holding a meeting while eating. Set everything aside; take a break, and savour your food. Your digestive health will thank you for it.

#5 – Take a walk after you eat

It can be tempting to curl up in bed with a book right away after a heavy meal–especially after a particularly long and gruelling day at work.  However, research suggests that a little post-meal movement (e.g. a walk) can aid digestion. 

Exercise has been shown to stimulate peristalsis–the process of moving digested food through the gastrointestinal tract. In other words, the post-meal movement helps speed up the time it takes for your food to move from the stomach into the small intestine (6).

Better yet, research links faster digestion with lower rates of heartburn and other reflux symptoms (7). 

With all that said, please do not over-exert yourself after having a meal. There’s some evidence that vigorous forms of exercise (e.g. sprinting or intense hiking) may hamper digestion by pulling blood flow away from the stomach and to the exercising muscles (8).    

Your digestive system is responsible for breaking down the foods you eat–helping your gut absorb nutrients that support your body’s functions, from hormone balance to energy production, mental health to skin health, and even toxin and waste elimination. 

And if that was not impressive enough, scientists have also found an increasingly clear association between gut health and overall health. 

Researcher has now shown that 70% of the immune system is housed within the gut wall! 

So–for the sake of optimising health and wellness, keeping your digestive tract running smoothly should be your top priority. Not sure where to start? Continue reading for the top 5 simple lifestyle changes that you can adopt immediately for better digestive health. 

#1 – Drink 30 minutes before your meal

Given that your digestive juices are liquid, it’s really no coincidence that you need to be properly hydrated to digest your food. That’s because water can help your body break up food. It can also help your food transit through your gastrointestinal tract, preventing bloating, constipation, and even acid reflux.

That said, you don’t want to drink during meal-time. 

Doing so will dilute your digestive juices and enzymes, which can adversely affect digestion and nutrient absorption. Instead, aim to drink a full glass of water 30-60 minutes before your meal. 

In addition to aiding digestion, drinking water before your meal can also help regulate your appetite as dehydration can cause feelings of hunger and water provides a sense of fullness.

#2 – Take 5 deep, slow breaths

You might have heard that your nervous system is made up of two parts:

  • Parasympathetic – ‘Rest and Digest’, the state we should be in for most of the day
  • Sympathetic – ‘Fight or Flight’, the state we need to escape from danger (hopefully not that often)

Both states are essential for your survival, and we switch between them as needed depending on what’s happening.

As humans evolved, if we experienced a threat like a ‘Tiger’ chasing us, we could switch onto our heightened fight or flight state and save ourselves. Your blood vessels dilate, your blood pressure increases and all non-essential functions are reduced so your body can focus its resources on keeping you alive.

The problem, though, is that this heightened state is not suitable for digesting food or sleeping as you can imagine. Modern life moves at such a fast pace; it’s hard for our brain to determine what’s a threat and what’s not.

One stressful phone call or even a negative thought can bring you out of your Rest & Digest state and some people spend most of their day like this, eating food on the go, checking social media, thinking negative thoughts, all of these things can bring you out of the optimal state for digesting your food which leads to poor digestion and ultimately inflammation! 

It can also cause elevated cortisol levels (the stress hormone) which negatively affects collagen production and many other things. 

So before you sit down for your next meal, try this simple exercise. It takes less than 2 minutes but can have a massive impact on your health and how you feel.

1. Make sure you’re sitting up straight and put one of both hands on your heart so you can feel it beating. Close your eyes if possible. 

2. Take a long slow breath in through your nose as you let your abdomen expand as your diaphragm draws in air. 

3. At the top of the breath, hold it for 2 seconds. 

4. Then slowly let the air out through pursed lips to slow it down. You should be blowing out for longer than you breathe in, ideally double the time. (The reason for the slow out-breath is this helps to activate your Rest & Digest, while fast breaths stimulate your Fight or flight) 

5. Repeat 5 times before you start eating.

#3 – Chew your food a few extra times

When you think about digestion, you’re likely to think of the work that happens in your stomach and intestine. But that’s just one part. Digestion starts in your mouth–with chewing. 

Chewing achieves two things (1, 2, 3). 

First, is mechanical digestion; this is just the physical act of breaking down food into smaller pieces. And the second relates to the fact that saliva contains amylase, the enzyme that helps chemically break down carbohydrates.

Accordingly, if you do not chew your food long enough, it is not exposed to amylase to break down the carbohydrates. And given that the stomach is ill-fitted to cope with carbohydrate digestion, you’re going to have issues when food gets there without being properly digested in the mouth. 

Insufficient chewing can also lead to large chunks of food ending up in your small intestine; this can lead to bloating, gas and discomfort.

So–because proper digestion starts in the mouth, make sure you chew your food thoroughly. 

#4 – Practice mindful eating 

If your schedule is typically packed to the minute, you’ll more often than not just eat where you can: in front of a computer, around a conference table–just about anywhere except a proper dining table where the focus is only on eating. 

But you really shouldn’t. 

That’s because multitasking (e.g. eating while working on that Excel sheet) registers as stress in your mind, in turn, triggering the stress response in the body (4, 5). And as mentioned earlier, when the body is fighting or fleeing, it essentially puts the digestive system on hold.

The bottom line? For optimal digestion, try mindful eating.

That means you need to unplug. Avoid staring at your computer screen, talking on the phone, or holding a meeting while eating. Set everything aside; take a break, and savour your food. Your digestive health will thank you for it.

#5 – Take a walk after you eat

It can be tempting to curl up in bed with a book right away after a heavy meal–especially after a particularly long and gruelling day at work.  However, research suggests that a little post-meal movement (e.g. a walk) can aid digestion. 

Exercise has been shown to stimulate peristalsis–the process of moving digested food through the gastrointestinal tract. In other words, the post-meal movement helps speed up the time it takes for your food to move from the stomach into the small intestine (6).

Better yet, research links faster digestion with lower rates of heartburn and other reflux symptoms (7). 

With all that said, please do not over-exert yourself after having a meal. There’s some evidence that vigorous forms of exercise (e.g. sprinting or intense hiking) may hamper digestion by pulling blood flow away from the stomach and to the exercising muscles (8).