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 Hampers Normal Life, May Cause Depression
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.
Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor Muscles To Improve Urinary Continence
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
1. Kegels Or Pelvic Floor Muscle Exercises
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.
- Quickly tighten your muscles, lifting them up, before releasing immediately.
- Contract the muscles as you breathe out. Repeat this quick contraction.
With this exercise, you boost the supportive strength of your pelvic floor muscles, specifically the “slow twitch muscles.”
- On an empty bladder, tighten the muscles gradually and hold for about 5 seconds.
- Then relax for 5 seconds.
- Build up to 10 seconds for both holding and relaxing over time. At first, you may only manage 1 or 2 seconds, but don’t worry. Ensure you don’t flex the buttocks, thigh, or abdominal muscles. Only your pelvic floor muscles must be engaged.
- Breathe freely through both tightening and loosening.
2. Glute Bridge
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
- Lie on your back with knees bent, legs hip-distance apart and feet flat on the mat, arms by your sides on the floor/mat. Contract the muscles of your abdomen as you flatten your lower back into the mat/floor.
- Exhale as you still hold that abdominal contraction, raising your hips off the floor by contracting your glute/buttock muscles. Use your heels to stabilize yourself. Don’t overreach with your hips because it will cause your back to arch too much.
- Inhale as you bring your body down to the start position.
3. Pelvic Floor/Inner Thigh Ball Squeeze
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
- Lie down on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place a ball or pillow between your knees, supporting it so it doesn’t slip or fall.
- Inhale relaxing your pelvic floor. Exhale as you draw your pelvic floor muscles up and in, gently squeezing the ball as you do so.
- Ensure your tailbone is in contact with the mat/ground as you hold your contraction. Hold it for a few seconds and build up to 5 seconds or more as you did with the regular Kegels. Release the contraction.
- Follow this with normal relaxed breathing.
4. Hip Bridge With Pilates Ball
A variation of the glute bridge, this exercise uses the aid of the pilates ball as in the previous exercise.10
- Lie on your back with a ball held between the knees as before.
- Gently squeeze the ball and feel your pelvic floor muscles contract as you do this.
Now move your arms above your head, palm side up.
- Exhale as you raise your hips off the ground to create the bridge position. At the same time, move your arms up to the ceiling and bring them to rest on either side of your body, on the mat.
- Breathe in, bringing your torso back down followed by your hips. As you do this, lift your arms up and reach overhead with them.
5. Malasana Or Garland Pose
Research has found that yoga can be beneficial for those with urinary incontinence.11 The simple squat pose or malasana can help strengthen your pelvic floor and allow you to contract it more forcefully.12
- Squat on the ground bringing your feet as close together as you can manage.
- Move your thighs a little further apart so they are wider than your torso.
- Breathe out as you lean your torso forward. It should fit between your thighs snugly.
- Press into your inner knees with the elbows and bring your palms to each other in salutation. Lengthen your front torso.
- Next, if you want to deepen the pose, try and press your inner thighs to the sides of the torso. Simultaneously, reach your arms ahead, swinging them to either side and fit your shins into your armpits. Let your fingertips press into the ground or clasp the back of your heels with them from the outside of your ankles.
- Hold this position for 30 seconds and work up to a minute over time.
- Breathe in as you straighten your knees and stand.
6. Supta Baddha Konasana Or Reclining Bound Angle Pose
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:
- Lie down on your back, knees bent, and feet together.
- Breathe in relaxing the pelvic floor. Feel your hip and abdominal muscle (transversus abdominis) relax. Allow your knees to drop open at the sides of your body.
- Breathe out as you bring your knees back to the start position, pulling your abdominal muscle in and lifting your pelvic floor. Accentuate that contraction of your muscles at the tail end of your exhalation.
7. Utkatasana Or Chair Pose
The utkatasana can be adapted to help build an awareness of the pelvic region and the muscles that control urine flow.15
- Begin in tadasana or mountain pose, standing with your feet together.
- Align your head, pelvis, and torso so that the centers of your head and pelvis line up.
- Inhale raising your arms up, palms facing each other until they are overhead.
- Exhale, keep your arms extended as your interlink your fingers and invert them to face the ceiling. Stretch your arms a little more. Continue to breathe. Extend a little more with each exhalation.
- As you exhale, bend your legs deeply, with your inner thighs, knees, and feet still firmly glued to each other and heels flat on the ground.
- Let your lower spine open and rotate your pelvis back. Stop moving the pelvis as soon as you feel a contraction in your pelvic floor muscles.
- Now focus on the lower abdominal muscles that are just above your pubic bone and gently draw them in.
- Next, contract your pelvic floor muscles as you do in a Kegel, to stop the imaginary urine flow.
- Hold for multiple breaths and then release. Return to the original position.
Avoid High Impact Exercise: It Can Make Leakage Worse
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.16
|↑1, ↑3||Urinary Incontinence and the Benefits of Exercise. American College of Sports Medicine.|
|↑2||Bladder Control Problems in Men (Urinary Incontinence).The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.|
|↑4, ↑5, ↑6||What Are Kegel Exercises?. National Association For Continence.|
|↑7||Taylor, Louise. Woman’s Book of Yoga: A Journal for Health and Self-Discovery. Tuttle Publishing, 1993.|
|↑8||Glute Bridge. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑9||Patient Exercise Book.University of Michigan Health System.|
|↑10||The Pilates Ball Core-strengthening Workout. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑11||Wieland, L. Susan, Nipun Shrestha, Zohra S. Lassi, Sougata Panda, Delia Chiaramonte, and Nicole Skoetz. “Yoga for treatment of urinary incontinence in women.” The Cochrane Library (2017).|
|↑12||Garland Pose. Yoga Journal.|
|↑13||4 Yoga Poses To Help Beat Your Sneaky Leak.Prevention.|
|↑14||Invite Quiet.Yoga Journal Nov 2008.|
|↑15||Ask our expert.Yoga Journal Nov 2003.|
|↑16||10 ways to stop leaks. National Health Service.|