Constipation affects about a quarter of the population at some point, and is most common in children, older people and women (because of hormonal changes, it can happen before a period, during pregnancy and after childbirth). Sometimes it can be a sign of more serious health problems, so talk to your GP if your bowel habits change or persist. Otherwise, try these simple measures to get things moving:
1 Up your fluid and fibre: most cases of constipation are down to a low-fibre diet or dehydration, or both. Drink eight to 10 glasses of water a day, sprinkle wheat bran on your breakfast cereal and include at least one fibre-rich food at every meal (fruit such as dried apricots; vegetables; and wholegrains such as wholewheat bread, rice or bran-rich cereals).
2 Get some exercise: a daily walk, run or other physical activity can do wonders.
3 Chill out: some people buy laxatives because they're not going to the loo every day, but they may not be constipated at all: "normal" ranges from going once a day to once every three days. Changed routines, a disrupted biological clock, unfamiliar loos and new foods can all mess up bowel habits.
4 Be toilet-trained: don't ignore the urge, make a regular time - the hour after breakfast is good - and if nothing happens after 10 minutes or so, don't worry.
5 Watch your meds: some painkillers, antidepressants, antacids and Parkinson's drugs can bung things up, often because they contain calcium or aluminium. Iron supplements can also constipate, so talk to your GP. Laxatives should be a last resort, ideally with your GP's recommendation.