Too Little Fiber, Exercise, and Liquids
The most common cause of constipation is a diet low in fiber (found in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains) and high in fats (found in cheese, eggs, and meats). People who eat plenty of high-fiber foods are less likely to become constipated.
Fiber -- both soluble and insoluble -- is the part of fruits, vegetables, and grains that the body cannot digest. Soluble fiber dissolves easily in water and takes on a soft, gel-like texture in the intestines. Insoluble fiber passes through the intestines almost unchanged. The bulk and soft texture of fiber help prevent hard, dry stools that are difficult to pass.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, Americans eat an average of 5 to 14 grams of fiber daily, falling short of the 20 to 35 grams recommended by the American Dietetic Association. Both children and adults eat too many refined and processed foods from which the natural fiber has been removed.
A low-fiber diet also plays a key role in constipation among older adults, who may lose interest in eating and choose convenience foods that are low in fiber. In addition, difficulties with chewing or swallowing may force older people to eat soft foods that are processed and low in fiber.
Liquids like water and juice add fluid to the colon and bulk to stools, making bowel movements softer and easier to pass. People who have problems with constipation should drink enough of these liquids every day, about eight 8-ounce glasses. Alcoholic beverages, as well as drinks that contain caffeine (like coffee and colas) have a dehydrating effect and can contribute to constipation.
Lack of exercise can also lead to constipation, although doctors do not know precisely why. For example, constipation often occurs after an accident or during an illness when one must stay in bed and cannot exercise.