Snickering aside, women should be grateful to Gynecologist Arnold Kegel. In the late 1940s, he developed an exercise for pelvic muscles that offers women huge benefits. Studies show that 70% of women with stress incontinence who use the Kegel exercise will see improvement. Beyond the leakage issue, Kegels can prepare a pregnant woman’s body for labor and improve your sex life.
“Before your doctor recommends surgery of some type, he or she is likely to suggest the Kegel exercise,” says Dr. Brad Campbell of McLeod OB/GYN Associates. “Weak pelvic muscles are one cause of urine leakage among women. Like any other muscle in our body, exercise can strengthen the muscles and give you more control.”
Essentially, a Kegel involves tightening, then releasing the muscles you use when urinating. Next time you are urinating, try to stop mid-stream. The muscles you feel are the ones that need strengthening.
The Routine. Tighten and hold the muscles for 2-5 seconds, then release. Repeat half a dozen times (“reps” in exercise jargon). And repeat the Kegel exercise several times a day to start. On week two, start extending the time you hold the muscles tight and the number of reps. Continue extending the time and increasing the reps each week.
Don’t expect immediate improvements. Make Kegels part of your daily routine and you should notice changes in bladder control after about a month. Keep doing the Kegels, because leakage will return if the pelvic muscles aren’t kept toned. The good news: once you’ve learned the technique, Kegels can be performed while seated at your desk or watching TV.
See your doctor if you have any questions.
Working the Right Muscles. Studies show that 8 of 10 women can correctly perform a Kegel after reading instruction. Here’s how to tell if you are working the wrong muscles. Avoid tightening muscles in your chest, stomach, thighs or buttocks. This won’t help your leakage and may create new aches and pains. Don’t overdo the Kegels. Your pelvic area may become “muscle bound” and grow too tight for comfortable sexual intercourse.
If you aren’t sure you’re working the right muscles, see an exercise physiologist.
Kegels Plus. Some physicians may suggest Kegels as part of therapy also involving medication or using a biofeedback device to ensure you’re exercising the appropriate muscles.
Find a gynecologist near you.
Sources: McLeod Health, Urology Care Foundation, National Institutes of Health, American Academy of Family Physicians