Memory loss, weaker bones, sagging skin: The picture of growing older doesn’t always look so pretty. Hell, even your bathroom habits change. (Sorry to poop on your parade.)
As we age, we tend to be more susceptible to constipation and diarrhea, in part because we may be exercising less, taking in less food, eating a diet with less fiber, or taking certain medications that could either clog you up or speed things along too quickly, says Gina Sam, M.D., director of the Gastrointestinal Motility Center at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.
For example, meds like calcium channel blockers (for blood pressure), pain medications like narcotics, antacids with calcium and aluminum, iron supplements, and some antidepressants can all cause constipation, she says.
With more years under your belt, you can wind up with a lack of muscle tone in your bowel muscle as well as in your abdominal muscles, says Sam. “The body just changes and things get looser,” she explains. More candles on the birthday cake could also lead to a decrease in peristalsis, the contraction of the intestinal muscles, which can cause constipation.
The key to keeping everything in check: Drink lots of water, exercise (working out literally shakes your GI tract and can help keep things flowing), and aim for about 25 to 50 grams of fiber in your diet a day.
As for what’s “okay” when it comes to your poop: “Normal is what you say it is,” says Richard Benya, M.D., a gastroenterologist and director of the Loyola University Health System. “For some people that’s going twice a day; for others, it’s every other day. Consistency over time defines normal.”
Also, make sure to stay up to date with your screenings. You’ll want to get screened for colon cancer at 50—earlier if you have a family history or risk factors like Crohn’s disease, says Benya. African-American women should be screened at 45 instead of 50, he says. “Colon cancer is the number two cause of cancer deaths, and it is preventable if you catch it early,” he says.