Whether you are one of the 70 million Americans with digestive diseases, or you simply overate at dinner last night—that bloated, uncomfortable feeling after eating is something you’d likely rather avoid. Dietary choices are fundamental to digestive health, but here’s an idea you’ve likely never considered before: the role of posture in digestion.
The Surprising Ways Posture Affects Digestion
Any kind of misalignment can alter how the organs relate spatially to one another, impacting the digestive processes as a result. The tilt of the pelvis is especially crucial. The pelvis serves as the floor to all the vital organs in the body. If the hips are out of whack, it creates a cascade of misalignment in the curve of the spine, pushing the transverse colon (the longest part of the large intestine) up to the chest cavity, impinging the nerve that triggers the diaphragm, preventing it from helping the colon contract. This can lead to a buildup of waste and gas in the body.
“For good digestion, it is important to have proper body alignment so that blood flow is provided to all of the internal organs, especially those of the digestive tract,” says Dana Ellis Hunnes, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., a senior dietitian at Ronald Reagan-UCLA Medical Center.
Brian Bradley, Fitness Director of Elev8d Fitness, the new home workout program from the experts of Sonima, agrees. “Think about water going through a hose,” he says. “If you scrunch or coil the hose, the water doesn’t pass through efficiently.” Your intestine is the same (all 32 feet of it!). When your posture is compromised because the hips are tucked under, the intestine is restricted and waste can’t move through properly, causing bloating.
But remember, everything is connected. You’d think that because the intestines sit in the low stomach that alignment of the hips is the only focus. “But the position of the rib cage is the roof of intestinal protection,” says Bradley. “We’re working from both ends of the house here.” Putting your shoulders into better alignment shifts your spine, then your low back, and so on—aligning from the top down. Once your shoulders are in a better position, you breathe better, and when you breathe better (over 22,000 times a day) your diaphragm drops down and compresses the internal organs. This up and down compression aids peristalsis—the wave-like contractions that push food through the digestive tract.
Acid reflux, an issue caused by stomach acid being regurgitated into the esophagus, can also be triggered by improper posture. “The stomach is angled so the acid lies at the bottom,” explains Pete Egoscue, world-renowned alignment expert and co-founder of Elev8d Fitness. “But if you roll your hips under, it not only changes the position of your stomach, but also it shortens the distance between the hydrochloric acid pool and your esophagus.” And, thus, the bile can more easily travel back up to the esophagus.
An Alignment Tune-Up for Better Digestion
Restoring our body’s natural positioning through exercise not only allows gravity to do its job, but it also ensures good circulation and aids in delivering oxygen-rich blood throughout the body, reducing the likelihood of bloating, gas, and acid reflux. Correct posture throughout the day will aid the ongoing process of digestion. And, Bradley points out, movement begets movement. The more you move, the more you stimulate your internal organs. A quick, 8-minute Elev8d Fitness workout and a brisk walk will shake loose the cobwebs of a sedentary workday or a long dinner to help you more efficiently process the food you’ve put in your body.
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Embedded photography courtesy of Hailey Wist.