Fitness Articles

Is a Weak Bladder Interfering With Your Workouts?

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You meet up with some friends for an early-morning run. Your stride is strong, your lungs are powerful and you’re feeling positively euphoric—until a familiar feeling stops you in your tracks. No matter that you just used the restroom right before heading out, when your bladder decides it’s time to go, there’s no stopping it. Suddenly, your blissful run has turned into a major embarrassment.
 
It’s a topic no one wants to talk about, but it’s all too common. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, research shows that 25 to 45 percent of women have some degree of urinary incontinence (UI), which is a loss of bladder control that results in the accidental leakage that can leave you blushing during boot camp. Although men can also experience UI, it happens twice as often for women.
 

What Causes Loss of Bladder Control?


According to Dr. Alyssa Dweck, a practicing OB-GYN in Westchester County, New York who has been voted “top doctor” in New York Magazine, one out of every three women in the United States struggles with the frustration of occasional bladder control issues. Aging is a common cause of loss of bladder control, but Dr. Dweck points out there are other factors that can trigger potty problems.
 
“Carrying excess weight can also contribute to occasional bladder control issues,” says Dr. Dweck. “The heavier you are, the more weight presses on the bladder and the more likely you’ll have trouble controlling your urine flow. A healthy BMI (body mass index) can help prevent occasional urgency.”
 
In addition to how much you eat, your choice of foods and beverages can impact your bladder. “Some foods can be bladder irritants and worsen bladder control; be mindful of typical culprits including chocolate, spicy and acidic foods,” suggests Dr. Dweck. You might want to cut back on coffee and sodas, too: The doctor points out that if you suffer from occasional urinary urgency, caffeine can act as a diuretic and aggravate your symptoms.
 
“Many medications can also influence bladder health and urinary habits,” she adds. “Speak to your healthcare provider about modifying dosage or changing medications to improve bladder complaints.”
 

4 Types of Incontinence


Although the end results may be just as embarrassing, there are different types of incontinence. It’s important to identify which type you have so that you can get the right treatment. Dr. Jaime Knopman, Director of Fertility Preservation at CCRM New York, breaks down four common types of incontinence:
  • Stress incontinence: This type of incontinence is triggered by certain movements that put physical pressure on the bladder. “Much like the pressure it causes in our daily lives, stress incontinence results from increases in intra-abdominal pressure,” says Dr. Knopman. “Think cough, sneeze, laugh, push—all of these actions increase pressure in your abdomen and can lead to the leakage of urine.” She says stress generally occurs because the urethra changes position, sometimes becoming hypermobile (or uber-flexible), thereby weakening those muscles. This can occur when there is poor support in the pelvic floor, which is a common side effect of pregnancy, deliveries, obesity, chronic coughing and high-impact activity.
  • Urge incontinence: When you get that panicky feeling that you’ve got to go right now—whether your bladder is full or empty—that’s urge incontinence. This is typically due to abnormal bladder contractions, and usually happens along with age and certain medical conditions.
  • Overflow incontinence: “In an overflow situation, the urine is always flowing; whether it is a stream or a dribble, it never stops coming,” says Dr. Knopman. “In general, this results from a physical inability to completely empty the bladder.”
  • Mixed incontinence: When you suffer from multiple types of bladder control issues at the same time, you have what’s called mixed incontinence. As Dr. Knopman points out, the combination effect makes diagnosis a bit more clouded and treatment slightly more difficult. You will likely need a specialist to help you pinpoint and solve the issue. When Dr. Knopman’s patients come to her with mixed incontinence, she starts by performing a thorough history and exam focused on the pelvis and pelvic organs, then checks their urine for infection. 

Incontinence and Exercise


Dr. Anup A. Vora
, a urologist with Chesapeake Urology, treats many women who experience loss of urinary control while working out. “During exercise, especially when the abdominal muscles are tightened, the pressure in the abdomen increases, which can transmit pressure to the bladder, which can cause urine to leak out,” says Dr. Vora. “While women of all ages can be affected, those women who have had childbirth are especially prone, as the muscles in the pelvis to prevent this type of leakage have lost their tone over time.”
 
Don’t let embarrassing leakage keep you from sticking to your fitness goals. Try these tips for staying active in spite of an overactive bladder:
  • Use yoga to stop the flow. In addition to Kegels, Dr. Dweck suggests trying certain yoga poses that can help to maintain pelvic floor muscles and reduce occasional urgency to urinate.
  • Stick with water during workouts. Caffeinated liquids, including energy drinks, teas and coffees, can act as diuretics, causing you to lose bladder control. Resist the temptation to avoid drinking altogether, as this can actually increase urine concentration and lead to leakage, while also increasing your risk for dehydration.
  • Wear protection. Use a thin pad to absorb unwanted leaks. If it makes you more comfortable, stick to looser-fitting, dark-colored clothing.
  • Switch up your activities. If your regular running routine or boot camp classes are causing embarrassing bladder flare-ups, it may be time to add some lower-impact exercises to the mix. In an Everyday Health article on stress incontinence, physical therapist physical therapist Tasha Mulligan suggests trying activities that lengthen the spine and reduce pressure on the bladder, such as yoga, Pilates, swimming and bicycling.
  • Don’t be afraid to take breaks. Always empty your bladder right before exercising, and take bathroom breaks as often as necessary during your workout. It’s better to miss a couple of minutes of class than to risk an embarrassing incident that could cut your session short.

Treatment for Incontinence


Before beginning any medical treatment for incontinence, Dr. Knopman asks her patients to examine their lives and see if any changes need to happen. “If you are smoking, you need to quit,” she says. “If you are overweight, you need to lose weight. If you are suffering from constipation, you need to take a stool softener and eat more fiber, and if you are drinking tons of caffeine, you need to cut back. While basic, these can be the biggest beasts to tackle.”
 
She The doctor also recommends learning and implementing daily Kegel exercises as a means of strengthening the pelvic floor muscles, which support the bladder. In a way, you may have to go back in time to the days of potty training and focus on retraining your bladder to void frequently and keep urine volumes low.
 
Traditional Kegels aren’t always the answer, though. Some women have hypertonic pelvic floor muscles, which is when those muscles are too tight and don’t relax enough to completely empty the bladder. This can result in an increase of urinary urgency and frequency, as well as painful urination. In that case, a doctor may recommend doing a combination of regular Kegels and reverse Kegels to help relax tension in the pelvic muscles.
 
Dr. Dweck suggests urinating on a timed schedule, regardless of whether or not you feel the urge, to help lessen the chance of losing bladder control.
 
Some recent studies have suggested that pumpkin seed oil could help to benefit bladder health, which has resulted in a bevy of bladder control supplements containing pumpkin oil extract. More research is needed to determine its effectiveness, though.
 
If your bladder issues become severe or persist over time regardless of your best efforts to control them, it may be time to talk with your doctor about exploring other options.

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Member Comments

  • There are several things to do for incontinence.
    I went to a physical Therapist and the treatment was a bio feed-back. It worked for a long time. I went for two months.
    Now I use Acupuncture. I went to the Dr.with a leg that was not in control some times after a back surgery. No pain but the leg was twitching and it annoyed me.

    I told the Acupuncturist him about the incontinence and he put one extra needle in my belly and I can hold my urine in. I have just been to day because of a minor dribble so he just puts another needle in the belly.
    The Dr is a real Doctor and he goes to China to keep up with his patients. The Acupuncture needles are so fine and no kind of medicine is used they are solid needles. The needle is put in the abdomen where the acupuncturist can find the exact place. I am happy with this I tried pads and I found they were uncomfortable. I do not use anything. Pat in Maine.
  • right now its (and its buddies are) sabotaging my life.
  • For me it's often a psychological urge. I'm nearing the bathroom, etc., etc., and I just feel I have to go. But I can reverse the urge by saying to myself, "I am NOT going to pee!!!" and I'll be able to wait a few more seconds/minutes until I get to a bathroom. I know, it's weird. lol
  • Taking hormones helped me, I fear the day when I have to stop taking them.
  • very informative article
  • I've found that since I'm exercising more, especially swimming, it's become less of a problem. For me, leaning forward and lifting something heavy, whether it's our 2-year-old granddaughter, a bag of topsoil, or a heavy bag of groceries, is a trigger.
  • I am surprised this article did not even mention there is a specialty in women's health in Physical Therapy that treats pts. with incontinence. It seems it would be reasonable to include that information.
  • Keep moving forward
  • I feel that many of us have this problem-good yu brought it out in the open!
  • I don't have this problem, but sadly a far worse one -involuntary bowel leakage. Was given no suggestions of help or what to do about it by my Dr. other than to hold it in. But it comes so fast its there before I even know it. Makes me want to be a shut in to deal with it :-( I smell like a manure pile and its hard to clean up when you are out and about. I have tried imodium. The only thing that sometimes keeps it at bay is my oxcodin, but I am trying to get away from the pharmaceutical chemicals and heal my RA, and osteo naturally.

About The Author

Melissa Rudy Melissa Rudy
A lifelong Cincinnatian, Melissa earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from University of Cincinnati before breaking into online writing in 2000. As a Digital Journalist for SparkPeople, she enjoys helping others meet their wellness goals by writing about all aspects of healthy living. An avid runner and group fitness addict, Melissa lives in Loveland with her guitarist husband and three feisty daughters.