Exercises for Incontinence
Depending on the kind of urinary incontinence a person is experiencing, certain exercises can be used as one form of treatment, or used in conjunction with other treatments. These exercises are known as Kegel exercises, or pelvic floor exercises or pelvic muscle exercises.
Indeed, anybody can benefit from regularly incorporating Kegel exercises into their routine. And there’s no reason to wait until you experience incontinence to learn more about them.
What Are Pelvic Floor Exercises?
Even those most devoted to their fitness regime might be unaware of the importance of doing Kegel exercises or pelvic floor exercises. This is often because the health industry can often be excessively focused on outward appearance rather than holistic wellbeing.
For long term health and wellbeing, Kegel exercises (or pelvic floor exercises) should be an important part of your daily routine. The good news is that these exercises are not very intensive. You can do them when sitting or standing, with no equipment or special workout gear. You won’t break a sweat or become breathless.
The pelvic floor muscles do an important job; they support the bladder, bowels and reproductive organs. Especially as we age, these organs can exert increasing downward pressure on our bodies. Certain things can exacerbate that, including:
- Pregnancy / childbirth
- Straining when constipated
- Surgeries like hysterectomy which can leave organs less supported
- The natural aging process and the effects of gravity
Pelvic floor exercises help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles and therefore prevent (or treat) incontinence, prolapse and more. They are also beneficial for general wellbeing and sexual health. It has been said that regular Kegels can enhance orgasms.
Benefits of Pelvic Floor Exercises
Doing pelvic floor exercises can have myriad benefits to women's health, both present and preventative:
- Helps prevent urinary incontinence
- Preventing involuntary gas or fecal incontinence
- Improve symptoms of prolapse
- Orgasm improvement
- Maintaining overall pelvic floor strength
How Quickly Can Pelvic Floor Exercises Help Urinary Incontinence?
No exercise is ever an overnight cure for urinary incontinence. It takes time to build strength in pelvic muscles that are weak or injured. And there are different kinds of incontinence, including stress incontinence and urge incontinence, which have different explanations and treatments
So you’ll need to be patient and stick with your daily regime—even before you start to experience relief from stress incontinence, urge incontinence or, indeed, any other form of incontinence.
Of course every woman is different. But generally most women can expect to see results from faithful daily practice of pelvic floor exercises after around 15 weeks.
If you’re living with persistent urinary incontinence, that may be a long time to wait. So work with your healthcare provider to see if there are other treatments you can use in conjunction with doing Kegel exercises. You might also want to get some leakproof underwear to help you manage in the interim.
Is Walking Good for Incontinence and Bladder Control?
All exercise is good for your body. And maintaining good fitness levels and a healthy body weight reduces your risk factors for urinary incontinence.
Walking, in particular, is an accessible, affordable and low impact exercise form that more people might take advantage of. It helps ease constipation and generally keep your system humming along. However, walking does not specifically target the pelvic floor muscles the way Kegel exercises do.
There are some yoga poses and floor exercises (e.g. The Bridge, Reclining Bound Angle Pose) that may also help strengthen pelvic floor muscles, but it is still worth doing dedicated daily Kegel exercises to ensure you are strengthening this oft-overlooked body area.
How to Do Kegels (Pelvic Floor Muscles) Exercises?
Step 1: Identify the Right Muscles
The first step is to know which pelvic muscles you’re exercising.
One trick to help women locate the right muscles is to stop urinating mid-stream. The muscles you use to do this are your pelvic floor muscles. Become familiar with how these muscles feel when they contract and relax. Your abdomen, buttocks and legs should remain relaxed when you’re doing pelvic floor exercises.
Other tips for finding the right muscles:
- Imagine you’re tightening your vagina around a tampon.
- Insert a finger into your vagina, then contract your pelvic floor muscles around it. You should feel your vagina tighten and your pelvic floor move upward.
- Pretend you are trying to avoid passing gas.
If you’re still not sure you’ve located the correct muscles, don’t be embarrassed to ask your doctor for help. They may use vaginal weighted cones or biofeedback to help.
Step 2: Breathe and Repeat
Now that you have identified the right muscles, you can focus on your routine.
- Inhale through your nose. When you inhale, your pelvic floor will naturally relax.
- Now, contract your pelvic floor muscles as you start to exhale slowly.
- Hold the contraction for 3-6 seconds. You might feel the muscles start to tire.
- Relax for the same (or more) time you held your contraction. It’s important to relax between contractions.
- Repeat 10 times.
Step 3: Build Up Your Frequency
Like any workout, you’ll get stronger over time. You may find it difficult to reach 10 times initially, but you can build up to that.
Eventually you’ll want to do one set of 10 Kegels, two or three times a day. Space out the timing so you give yourself a chance to recover and don’t rush the exercises, especially at the beginning.
For continued benefits, make your Kegel exercises a permanent part of your daily routine. Also, consider shaking it up: Do your Kegels when sitting, standing and laying down. Occasionally, do short quick bursts (called ‘quick flicks’) and sometimes keep a more steady rhythm.
Some Things to Avoid
While Kegels are safe and easy for all women to do, there are some things to watch out for:
- Stop any exercise if it causes pain. In particular, Kegels are not exercises where you should expect to “feel the burn”. If you experience any pain when doing your pelvic floor exercises, talk with your healthcare provider.
- Don’t do Kegels while peeing. While stopping urine flow midstream can be a helpful way to locate the correct muscles, don’t make doing Kegels while you pee a habit. It can actually have the opposite effect of weakening pelvic floor muscles. Peeing is a natural urge and you shouldn’t suppress it.
- Straining or flexing when doing pelvic floor muscle exercises: Your legs, buttocks and abdomen should be relaxed when you do Kegel exercises. You likewise shouldn’t be straining in any way when you do them.
Don’t be embarrassed to ask for medical advice if you’re confused or concerned whether you’re doing your pelvic floor exercises correctly. If your muscles are very weak, or you’re recovering from a trauma, it can be truly difficult to locate the correct muscles. Your doctor or physical therapist can help you. They may use tools like vaginal cones or biofeedback to help you.
Everybody Can Benefit from Incorporating Kegel Exercises into Their Health Regime
As with physical fitness; injury is often an impetus for therapy or exercise. But you don’t have to wait for something to go wrong to start making pelvic floor exercises a part of your routine.
As we’ve seen, all women of any age can benefit from developing a good habit and keeping those pelvic floor muscles strong. It may even help prevent urinary incontinence down the road.