Spend a lot of time thinking about when your last bowel movement was? Constipation is actually a pretty common gastrointestinal health problem. Up to 80 percent of people are estimated to suffer from it at some point during their lives. Taking measures to stay regular will make living more pleasant, and certain types of fibre can offer additional health benefits such as reducing your cholesterol.

While the frequency of bowel movements varies for everyone, these are some of the symptoms you may be experiencing if you have constipation:

  • passing stools fewer than 3 times per week
  • hard and lumpy stools
  • sensation of incomplete evacuation
  • sensation of blockage
  • manual maneuvers to help pass stool
  • straining to have a movement

The root cause of constipation is too much water absorption by the colon or slow colon muscle contractions. Here's how to prevent this from happening. Remember to add fibre to your diet gradually to help alleviate gas and bloating.

*Eat a high fibre diet. Consuming a diet in high fibre foods, such as legumes (beans and lentils), fruit and vegetables, and whole-grain cereals and breads, will help you reach the 21 to 38 grams of fibre you need daily.

*Try fibre supplements. Over-the-counter fibre supplement products help keep stools soft and regular*. They may also help reduce your total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein or LDL (the bad cholesterol) levels when taken with a low-fat diet**.

*Drink plenty of liquid. Staying hydrated is important for regularity, especially when you increase your fibre content – otherwise you may worsen constipation. Aim for up to eight glasses of caffeine-free fluid a day.

*Exercise regularly. Getting at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week – even walking – can help stimulate intestinal function. Of course, exercise is pivotal to maintaining a healthy weight, and has been shown to reduce risk for cardiovascular disease, depression and some cancers.

*Cut out low-fibre foods. You don't want to counteract all the "roughage" you're ingesting by loading up on foods that are high in fat and sugar, which tend to be low in fibre content. Avoid ice cream, cheese and processed foods, which can worsen constipation.

*Don't wait to evacuate. Try not to delay nature's call. When you delay the urge to have a bowel movement, more water is absorbed from your stool, causing it to become harder.

With a little planning, you can make sure to prevent the discomfort of constipation and reap the benefits of a healthier lifestyle, including a fibre-rich diet and more exercise.

* Use as directed.

** Consult a doctor if you are considering use of this product as part of a cholesterol-lowering program.