This article was medically fact-checked by Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist Dr. Shree Datta.
Exercise is supposed to be a way to stay healthy and make you feel good (gotta love those endorphins!), but for many women it can be a source of anxiety and embarrassment. Incontinence is common in women of all ages, and about 27% of women who play sports non-competitively report urinary leakage during exercise.
Many women who have issues with leaks accept it as a part of life – up to 30% of these women modify the way they play or quit exercising entirely. But you shouldn’t have to quit something you enjoy just because you have leaks.
Talking to your health care provider is the first step in regaining control, but in the meantime, here’s a little more information about leaks during exercise and five simple tips to help you avoid them while staying fit.
Exercise And Stress Urinary Incontinence
Stress urinary incontinence, the type of incontinence that most often causes leaks during exercise, is characterized by involuntary leakage of urine because of activity like coughing, jumping, or lifting that increases pressure in your abdomen.
Exercise, particularly high impact sports like basketball and running, also has this effect, which can put pressure on your bladder and urethra. Your pelvic floor – responsible for supporting your pelvic organs – should usually help keep your bladder sphincter closed.
However, if it’s weak or damaged, your pelvic floor doesn’t function as well and some urine might leak out. However, there are steps you can take to prevent leaks – not just manage the symptoms with pads and dark clothing:
1. Kegels – A Woman’s Most Essential Exercise
Kegel exercise is the #1 doctor-recommended treatment for solving and preventing bladder leaks. Just like your other muscles, your pelvic floor needs exercise too! From ensuring a healthy pregnancy and childbirth to maintaining control over the bladder, the pelvic floor is one of a woman’s most important muscle groups.
As with any exercise, it’s important to use the right technique – if you have questions or are worried that you’re doing it incorrectly your doctor can help you perfect your form. A good set of weighted Kegel exercisers can also help make your routine more effective – just like a set of dumbbells helps you build strength in your arms.
So while toning up your thighs and derriere might make you look and feel good, integrating Kegel exercises into your daily routine will help your pelvic floor stay strong and effective throughout your lifetime.
2. Visit The Ladies Room Before Exercise
This might seem like common sense – but paying attention to your bladder and stopping by the toilet just before you start (or even during) your fitness routine can make a big difference in controlling leaks. Sometimes a weak pelvic floor or other bladder conditions can make it hard to know if you’ve emptied your bladder fully.
To make sure you’re getting as much urine out as you can, try double voiding: urinate until it feels like you are done, stand up, and sit down to urinate again. You may want to avoid drinking too much before exercising, while still taking caution to stay hydrated – limiting your water intake during exercise is not only unpleasant but also dangerous for your health.
3. Watch The Caffeine
This one may be a no brainer, but many of us rely on a tasty cup of coffee to get motivated to work out. Unfortunately, this little habit may be contributing to your stress incontinence. Try avoiding caffeine at least two hours before exercise. If you are drinking caffeinated beverages, be sure to stay hydrated as well.
4. Don’t Hold Your Breath
There are many things you can do to protect your pelvic floor during exercise, but one of the most important is to BREATHE. Holding your breath when lifting or sprinting increases the intra-abdominal pressure and makes leaks more likely and can weaken your pelvic floor muscles.
5. Go Low Impact (For A Little While)
While you’re working with your doctor to strengthen your pelvic floor, it might be worth it to take a break from high intensity and high impact exercise. Sports and exercise that involves a lot of running or jumping – which means jarring and bouncing your bladder and pelvic floor – are more likely to cause leaks.
Try out swimming or yoga, which have smoother, lower impact movements and can put less strain on your bladder and pelvic floor. Don’t quit your fitness routine, just try something new for a bit while you gain control of your leaks.
6. Ask about Medications
Certain medications can impact symptoms of stress incontinence. Check with your doctor to see if this applies to you, and if anything can be done to help manage your medications and/or symptoms.
7. Manage Weight
Women with a higher BMI are more likely to have issues with leaks during exercise. Extra weight can potentially add pressure to your bladder and urethra, increasing the strain on your pelvic floor. Keep up with your training goals – don’t give up just because of your leaks – managing weight in a healthy manner can help with leaks.
You can also discuss nutrition and diet with your doctor to give you that extra boost towards a healthy weight.
Leaks are not something you have to live with – not in your daily life and not during exercise. You don’t have to give up the health and happiness that comes with exercise just to avoid leaks. It might take a little bit more work and some adjustment, but with advice and treatment from your doctor you can get back to all of the activities you love.
Facts checked by:
Dr. Shree Datta
Dr. Shree Datta is a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist in London, specialising in women’s health including all menstrual problems such as fibroids and endometriosis. Dr. Shree is a keen advocate for patient choice, having written numerous articles and books to promote patient and clinician information. Her vision resonates with INTIMINA, with the common goals of demystifying periods and delivering the best possible care to her patients
A collective group of “lady experts” at Intimina who love sharing our personal experiences, even when they are a little too personal. We believe it’s time to start breaking down the taboos around menstruation, motherhood, and menopause, and start owning our female health.