Urinary incontinence or the loss of ability to hold in the urine in your body can be embarrassing and inconvenient, interfering with your daily life. If you are looking for natural ways to overcome it, exercise can make a world of difference, improving symptoms and helping regain bladder control.
Urinary incontinence can be brought on due to physical changes like menopause or childbirth in women. And while women make up the majority (85 percent) of those with incontinence in the United States, men too may develop the problem.1 An enlarged prostate, neurological problems, chronic coughing, obesity, and old age are some of the possible causes of incontinence in men.2
This problem can affect your self-esteem as well as your ability to function normally at home or in the workplace. It can also hamper your activity levels and mobility in general and take its toll on your sexual activity. It isn’t surprising that it is also a trigger for depression in many people. Thankfully, some simple, nonsurgical ways can improve your condition and gain control over this otherwise potentially debilitating problem.3 What follows are some exercises you can do anytime, anywhere to help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles and regain proper control.
Tackling urinary continence is all about working the pelvic muscles. So why do these muscles matter? The pelvic floor muscles extend from the inside of your pubic bone all the way to your anus and are woven around your urethra, vagina, and rectum. They control the contractions of your bladder muscle as well as the pressure in the urethra. These actions combine to start and stop the flow of a stream of urine. When you contract these muscles, the lower urethra closes and squeezes any urine back up your bladder, preventing leakage. When they relax the urine flows out. If these muscles aren’t strong, the tightening may not be effective, causing urine to leak. As you exercise these muscles and make them stronger, you should notice less frequent accidents and should be able to go longer without using the bathroom. Doing more repetitions and holding your contractions for longer are other ways to make this more effective.4
Kegel exercises can strengthen your pelvic floor strength, improve bladder function, and possibly even completely eliminate leakage.
As a first step, identify the pelvic floor muscles by stopping urination midstream. You should feel a clench inside the pelvic region that is holding it in. These are the muscles you will need to target for these two forms of Kegels.5
Try and do about 3 sets of short and long contractions each with 10 repetitions per set, twice a day. The focus needs to be on accuracy rather than count. So if you can’t manage so many, do fewer but do them right.6
This helps work the “fast twitch muscles” and the contractions are short or quick. These muscles help to quickly close off urine flow, avoiding leakage.
With this exercise, you boost the supportive strength of your pelvic floor muscles, specifically the “slow twitch muscles.”
This exercise helps boost circulation to the genitals and pelvic region and tones up the pelvic muscles. Incidentally, it is also practiced in yoga and is called kandharasana or bridge pose. As a bonus, it also strengthens your lower back and spine and eases menstrual cramps in women.7 8
This is an easy exercise that can be done with either a medium-sized exercise or pilates ball or a pillow. It works your inner thigh and core, which in turn connect to your pelvic floor muscles, making it a good workout for bladder control.9
A variation of the glute bridge, this exercise uses the aid of the pilates ball as in the previous exercise.10
Research has found that yoga can be beneficial for those with urinary incontinence.11The simple squat pose or malasana can help strengthen your pelvic floor and allow you to contract it more forcefully.12
This yoga pose focuses on your groin and pelvic region and works your inner thighs as well as hips, giving it a complete stretch. With stronger inner thighs, you can stabilize your pelvic floor better. Because you boost flexibility, you can sense and use your pelvic floor muscles much more deeply than before.13 Follow these steps to perform this asana14:
The utkatasana can be adapted to help build an awareness of the pelvic region and the muscles that control urine flow.15
If you’re looking at losing weight or exercising to help your urinary incontinence, be aware that high impact exercise can actually make things worse by putting pressure on the pelvic floor muscles. Even sit-ups may prove problematic. So skip the aerobics classes and trade in your running shoes for some yoga or pilates. This will help you build core strength, stretch your body, and get a good workout without taking a toll on your pelvic floor muscles. Plus, as we saw, yoga has some asanas that are actually beneficial for the pelvic region.