In daily life, most of us pay no attention to the position of our body during and after meals. However, there is evidence that our body posture can affect our digestion, our appetite, and our rate of gastric emptying.
Often patients with IBS and bloating report that their gut symptoms, such as bloating and distension (that they attribute to intestinal gas), develop progressively during the day. Our stomach and intestines rely on movements known as peristaltic movements to move food through our intestines. Poor posture compresses the abdominal organs involved in digestion which then reduces peristaltic function (meaning your gastrointestinal system may not function as effectively). This can lead to gas, bloating, constipation, and acid reflux. Studies have found that being upright (in particular standing) was better for the transit of gas through the intestines than lying down.
Slouching restricts the diaphragm. We might all think of the diaphragm as a muscle that helps us breathe. It does way more than that. The diaphragm helps to move food through the oesophagus. The oesophagus runs directly through the muscular part of the diaphragm. Each time the diaphragm contracts it allows food to pass through and prevents stomach acid rising into the mouth. If there is undue tension or contraction in the diaphragm from poor posture, this can lead to acid reflux.
The diaphragm plays a role in peristalsis and its movement is managed by an important cranial nerve known as the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve runs from the brain stem, through the diaphragm, into the gut. If we’re ‘squashing’ the diaphragm by slumping or hunching, it can affect the nerve signals that pass through it. The vagus nerve also stimulates the production of hydrochloric acid that affects how we break down food in the stomach. If this is also being impaired and is on the slow side, then food can sit in the digestive tract too long causing uncomfortable symptoms such as gas, bloating, and constipation.
Changing our posture and how we eat can have a big impact on our digestive function and how we feel after eating.
My top three tips for digestive friendly posture:
If your job requires that you sit all day make sure you take regular breaks and get up and move around. Exercise is important too as it tones the intestinal muscles and strengthens our core.
2. Eat mindfully
Avoid eating at your desk. Take your lunch outside and leave your phone behind. Share your evening meals with friends/family around a table. The couch is for relaxing after eating.
Shallow breathing is what happens when we’re stressed and in fight or flight mode. Digestion doesn’t happen here! Conscious breathing where we lengthen the exhalation (out breath) helps our bodies to relax and switch us back into rest and digest mode. It helps to reduce our stress and our gut function is much better here too.