Five lifestyle tips for a healthy tummy

Digestive problems and stomach upsets can be prevented, relieved and even banished by simple lifestyle changes.

Beat stress to ease tummy troubles

You may have noticed a feeling of unease in your stomach during times of stress. That’s because anxiety and worry can upset the delicate balance of digestion. In some people it slows down digestion, causing bloating, pain and constipation, while in others it speeds it up causing diarrhoea and frequent trips to the loo. Some people lose their appetite completely.

Stress can also worsen digestive conditions like peptic ulcers (on the inside lining of the stomach or small intestine) and irritable bowel syndrome.

One solution is to avoid eating when you're feeling very anxious, stressed or unhappy. It also helps your digestion if you avoid arguing at the dinner table, as getting angry can put you off your food or make eating harder. Try to keep mealtimes happy and relaxed.

For more advice, read our articles on managing stress.

Stop smoking to prevent reflux

Smoking can weaken the muscle that controls the lower end of the oesophagus (gullet) and allow acid from the stomach to travel in the wrong direction back up the oesophagus, a process known as reflux.

Reflux causes the symptoms of heartburn (a burning sensation in the chest) and can bring on or aggravate peptic ulcers and inflammatory conditions of the bowel. Smoking is also an important risk factor for stomach cancer.

Read our articles on how to stop smoking.

Eat properly to help your digestion

It is very easy to spend our working lives eating on the move or at our desks, gulping down food between meetings and then crashing out in front of the TV with a takeaway in the evenings. But eating this way can play havoc with our digestive system.

Following some basic rules can prevent problems:

  • Don’t rush your food. Take the time to eat slowly. Try putting your fork down between bites and chew each mouthful well.
  • Don’t overeat. Reduce the size of your portions at mealtimes, or try eating four to five small meals instead of three large ones.
  • Eat regularly and try not to skip meals.
  • Avoid eating a big meal just before you go to bed. Eat your last meal at least two to three hours before lying down.
  • Make sure you have plenty to drink. Try to have at least one and a half litres (two and a half pints) of liquid a day.

Lose excess weight to beat heartburn

If you’re overweight, your tummy fat puts pressure on your stomach and can cause heartburn. Shedding some pounds may relieve digestive symptoms such as heartburn and other acid-related stomach complaints.

Check your weight using this BMI self-assessment tool and read advice on losing weight.

Binge drinking causes acid-related digestive disorders

Moderate drinking won’t hurt your digestive system, but binge drinking increases acid production in your stomach and can cause heartburn and aggravate other digestive disorders, warns Dr Anton Emmanuel.

Binge drinking is defined as drinking eight or more units of alcohol in one session for men, and drinking more than six units in one session for women.

Read our articles on how to cut down on drinking.

Now, read an article on how to get rid of bloating.


Page last reviewed: 21/06/2014

Next review due: 21/08/2016


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The effects of binge drinking

A drink-by-drink guide to the effects of binge drinking on your mind and body

Lose weight

Weight loss resources to help you lose weight healthily, including the NHS 12-week diet and exercise plan

Stop smoking

Help with quitting, including what your GP can do, local services and nicotine replacement therapies

Stress management

Learn to spot symptoms of stress and get practical tips on keeping stress under control

Digestive health

Find out how to beat common digestive problems like bloating and indigestion