Most women understand the importance of exercises that increase heart rate to improve cardiovascular health, and stretching and toning exercises that offer a variety of health benefits. What many women don't know is how important it is to strengthen their pelvic floor — the group of muscles that hold organs, including the bladder, uterus and bowels, in place.
As women age, these muscles can weaken, leading to uncomfortable symptoms such as urine leakage, pelvic pressure and even prolapse — or "falling out" — of the pelvic organs. Although some women think these symptoms are a normal part of aging, experts say they don't have to be.
According to Lynne Beresford, an outpatient rehabilitation advanced clinician who is part of the Female Pelvic Health Services team at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns, one simple exercise can help strengthen the pelvic floor and its supporting structures, and prevent or reduce these symptoms.
"Pelvic muscle or Kegel exercises should be done 30 to 80 times each day," says Beresford. "You can do a few at a time and, if done properly, no one knows you're doing them, so they can be done anywhere."
Before you get started
- Relax your body and remember to breathe throughout the exercises.
- Avoid straining or bearing down.
- Isolate the muscles. You should not see or feel other muscle movement. Keep the buttocks, belly and inner thighs relaxed.
Position for the exercises
- Start by lying down on your back, with your knees bent and supported with pillows.
- Once you can feel the contractions, you can perform the exercises lying down, sitting or standing.
Performing the exercises
- Place your hand on top of your pubic bone.
- Tighten and draw in the muscles around the anal and vaginal openings. You will feel the muscles lift toward your pubic bone.
There are two types of exercise contractions you should perform:
1. Quick contractions — where you tighten, lift and release.
2. Endurance contractions — where you tighten, lift and hold the muscles for up to 10 seconds.
Note that it is important to check with your health care provider before beginning new exercises, particularly if you have specific health concerns.
Because it's important to perform Kegels each day, Beresford advises women to do them when some other "reminder" activity is happening.
"Try doing them at regular times, like when you are stopped at a red light or each time a commercial comes on," she says. "It's important for women of all ages, and it'll help avoid health and comfort issues as you age."