We hear lots about the broad hormonal changes a woman experiences during the menopausal season of life, but what about the physiological changes that also occur, including thinning of the urethra, reduced elasticity of vaginal tissue, and weakened pelvic floor muscles? All of these can contribute to bladder leakage (i.e., urinary incontinence) which has long been thought to be an inevitable part of aging for women. Wrong.

Urine leakage has to do with loss of muscle tone in the pelvic region. Imagine a collection of muscles (also known as the pelvic floor) cradling the bladder, bowel, and uterus like a hammock. The pelvic floor forms the base of our “core” muscles, offers support and stability to the spine, helps maintain bladder and bowel control, and plays an important role in sexual sensation and function, among other things. These muscles begin to weaken around age 40.

In the mid-1940’s, American gynecologist, Dr. Arnold Kegel, developed a strengthening exercise consisting of regular, repeated contracting and relaxing the muscles that form part of the pelvic floor.

To identify your “Kegel muscles”, try to stop your urine flow midstream. The muscle you feel clenching is the muscle you’re trying to strengthen.

How to do Kegel exercises

To begin, lie down on your back with your knees bent. As your muscles grow stronger, the exercises can also easily be done sitting or standing. Once in aligned position:

  1. Squeeze your muscles
  2. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds
  3. Release and rest for 3 seconds
  4. Repeat for 10 repetitions
  5. Do this sequence at least 3x per day

It is important to continue breathing normally while contracting and relaxing, and keep the muscles in your legs, buttocks and tummy relaxed. Repeat this sequence regularly throughout the day, the perk being that they can be done discreetly anywhere. If you do Kegel exercises regularly, you can expect a marked difference within about a few weeks to a few months –  such as less frequent bladder leakage, and, yes, even longer and stronger orgasms.

Wouldn’t it be great to live your life and do the things you want to do without worry? Keeping your pelvic floor healthy and strong is key – for your health now – and most certainly for your health and vitality down the road. It’s all about prevention… and starting early is best!

Note: if you have vaginismus (muscle spasms with vaginal penetration), avoid Kegel exercises which can worsen the problem. Consult your health provider or pelvic floor physiotherapist for further solutions.

Dr. Sarah Sjovold is a Naturopathic Doctor practising in the Langley and Surrey area where she sees patients looking for help with hormonal balance, perimenopause and menopause, and women’s health.

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