You might be tempted to head for a nap after a big meal, but doing some gentle movement could help your tummy feel better faster. “Stretching can help the process of digestion along,” says exercise physiologist Adam Martin. “It opens up that gastric tract and helps food move through a bit better.”
When you eat, your body automatically engages a complex series of muscle contractions to move food through the digestive system in a process called peristalsis. Stretches that encourage those muscle movements are thought to help the process run smoothly. “If you are engaging through that system it’s going to work better for you,” Martin explains. Think fewer tummy aches, bloating and gas.
Martin suggests starting with some relaxing, deep-breathing exercises to open up the pathway for food, from the chest cavity to the stomach. “Lie down on the floor and really elongate yourself, then do some deep, diaphragmatic breathing,” he says. Then try working through these stretches that compress and rotate your mid-section to enhance the digestive process. “Your small intestine and large intestine aren’t in a straight line, so anything rotational and compressing, such as having your knees close to your body or across your body, will certainly help,” Martin says.
Stretches to speed up digestion
These stretches are designed to gently work your mid-section. Try them after a big meal to give your digestion a helping hand.
1. Forward fold
How to: Sit on the floor and straighten your left leg in front of you. Place the sole of your right foot against your left inner thigh. Lengthen through your spine. Bend from your hips and reach over your left leg, keeping your back straight. Hold for 30 seconds then switch legs.
2. Lower-back stretch
How to: Lie on your back and, keeping your knees together, bring them to your chest. Keeping your head, back and shoulders in contact with the floor, hug your shins or the back of your thighs and hold.
3. Supine twist
How to: Lie on your back and bring your right knee across your body, level with your hip, until your knee and calf touch the floor (if your knee doesn’t touch the floor, that’s okay, just relax into it). Extend your right arm, palm facing down, keeping your right shoulder grounded. Hold for 5-10 breaths. Change legs.
How to: Lie on your back and bend your knees with your feet flat on the floor and heels close to your buttocks. Lift your hips towards the ceiling, keeping your tailbone tucked under. Stretch out your arms, interlacing your fingers. Hold for 5-15 breaths.
5. Cat stretch
How to: Kneel down and place your hands shoulder-width apart, knees hip-width apart and your back flat. Engage your abdominal muscles and round your back, pushing it towards the ceiling. Tuck in your head and point your chin towards your chest. Hold for a few breaths then slowly return to the starting position.
6. Downward dog
How to: Start on all fours, hands shoulder-width apart and knees hip-width apart. Plant your hands firmly on the ground. Exhale while lifting your hips to pull your body into an inverted V. Keep your knees bent, then slowly straighten them as much as you can while maintaining the length in your spine. Press your shoulder blades down and keep your head and neck relaxed. Hold for 5-10 breaths.