Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
February 16, 2024 ·  4 min read

How Often Should You Have a Bowel Movement? Gastroenterologist Explains.

What’s something that has a huge impact on our health and wellbeing but that we tend to feel uncomfortable talking about? Our poop. That’s right – bowel movements are an essential function of our digestive system, ensuring the elimination of waste and maintaining a healthy gut. However, the frequency of bowel movements can vary from person to person, leading to common questions like “How often should I poop?” To shed light on this topic, we turn to a knowledgeable gastroenterologist who offers valuable insights and guidelines. Let’s look at the factors that determine how often you should have a bowel movement, discuss what your poop can reveal about your health, examine common causes of constipation or increased frequency, and highlight when you should seek medical attention.

How Often Should You Have a Bowel Movement?

According to experts, including the insights of a gastroenterologist from the Cleveland Clinic, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. The frequency of bowel movements can vary from person to person and can even change for an individual over time. External factors such as diet, medication, exercise routines, hormonal changes, and overall health conditions can influence the regularity of bowel movements.

Dr. Brian A. Brunson, a gastroenterologist from Gastro Health in Birmingham, AL, suggests a general rule of thumb referred to as “three and three.” The basic guideline is to have a bowel movement at least three times a week, but it can also be considered normal if you go up to three times a day, as long as the stool is easy to pass. Remember, everyone’s body is unique, and what is regular for one person may not be the same for another.

 “So many factors are involved in regulating bowel habits,” Dr. Brunson told The Healthy. “I typically encourage patients to seek medical attention if they go a week or longer without moving their bowels, or if they have associated abdominal pain or distention, fevers, chills, vomiting, obstipation (failure to pass gas), weight loss over 10 pounds or blood in the stool.”

Identifying Constipation and When to Seek Medical Attention

If you find yourself pooping less frequently or experiencing discomfort, Dr. Brunson advises paying attention to certain indicators before becoming concerned. It’s important to note that severe constipation can have various underlying causes, and seeking medical attention is crucial in such cases. As mentioned above, Dr. Brunson suggests that if you go a week or longer without a bowel movement, experience abdominal pain or distention, have fevers, chills, vomiting, obstipation (failure to pass gas), unintentional weight loss of over 10 pounds, or notice blood in your stool, you should consult a healthcare professional promptly. Determining the underlying cause and receiving appropriate treatment is vital for your overall well-being.

Regulating Bowel Movements

In addition to understanding how often you should have a bowel movement, it’s equally important to consider factors that can influence regularity. Dr. Brunson emphasizes the significant role of dietary choices in promoting a regular bowel pattern. A balanced diet that includes lean protein, fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, along with increased water and fiber intake, can contribute to a healthy digestive system. 

According to Healthline, there are other factors at play, as well. Regular exercise will help to keep you regular, whereas being sedentary (spending most of your day sitting and not moving much) will do the opposite. Age and genetics also impact how frequently you have bowel movements, as do chronic or acute illnesses. Though age and genetics can’t be changed, you can aid these factors with a healthy diet and exercise routine. For the rest, it is important to address the underlying cause (in this case, the acute or chronic illness) in order to achieve better bowel movements. Be sure to speak with your health care provider in order to find a solution that works for you.

It’s worth noting that while it may be tempting to rely on laxatives or antidiarrheals to regulate bowel movements, Dr. Brunson advises against excessive use of stimulant laxatives. Instead, he recommends discussing your situation with a healthcare professional to determine if incorporating regular exercise into your routine may improve your bowel movements. Physical activity, especially for individuals with sedentary lifestyles, can aid in maintaining healthy bowel function.

Understanding What Your Poop Says About Your Health

Beyond frequency and regularity, your poop can provide valuable insights about your overall health. Dr. Brunson advises paying attention to the color of your stool as it can be an indicator of certain conditions. While stool color can be influenced by factors such as diet and medications, specific colors may warrant urgent evaluation by a medical professional. Dark or tarry stools may signal upper gastrointestinal bleeding, while clay-colored or pale stools can be indicative of liver, biliary tree, or pancreatic diseases. In general, brown or green stools are considered normal.

The Bottom Line

Maintaining regular bowel movements is essential for a healthy digestive system. While there is no fixed frequency that applies to everyone, the “three and three” rule provides a general guideline for bowel movement regularity. If you experience severe constipation or notice any alarming symptoms, it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional for a proper evaluation and appropriate treatment. By focusing on a balanced diet, staying hydrated, increasing fiber intake, and incorporating regular physical activity, you can enhance your chances of achieving optimal bowel movement regularity and overall gut health.


  1. How Often and How Long Should It Take You to Poop?Cleveland
  2. Here’s How Often You Should Have a Bowel Movement, Says a Gastroenterologist.” Healthy. Kiersten Hickman. October 20, 2023.
  3. How Many Times Should You Poop a Day?Healthline. Rachel Nall, MSN, CRNA. March 27, 2023