Lack of exercise and also childbirth can all weaken the pelvic floor muscles in women. This can lead to problems which affect your quality of life. It's estimated that around one in three women have a weak pelvic floor and in the over 55s this number rises to half. With this in mind, it figures that most women, regardless of age and whether they have given birth or not, could do with an exercise regime that helps strengthen this pelvic region.
What is the pelvic floor?
Your pelvic floor is made up of muscles, ligaments and connective tissues and acts as a kind of hammock to keep your pelvic organ in place, that is the bladder, uterus and rectum. By doing so, the pelvic floor prevents prolapses and a strong pelvic floor can protect against other issues too.
How can a strengthened pelvic floor help?
As well as pregnancy and childbirth, weight gain and aging can also impact the pelvic floor, causing it to weaken. A strong pelvic floor can help with problems of stress incontinence, when you have a sudden urge to urinate and then no real time to get to the lavatory, causing embarrassing situations and social anxiety. This can also include leaks when you cough, exercise or laugh, which can seriously make you feel uncomfortable and self-conscious; even getting as bad as making you avoid certain situations.
Female sexual disorders affect women of all ages and are related to sexual function. The pelvic diaphragm is involved with sexual response as is the pelvic floor. Weakness in these areas can lead to less pleasurable sexual experiences, as a result of muscles not being engaged in sexual function as much as they could be and a lack of sensitivity. Many women experience less pain during sexual intercourse too, once their pelvic floor is tightened.
How do I do pelvic floor exercises?
What is important is that you regularly do your pelvic floor exercises. You can do them every day as they don't take long and you don't need to use any special equipment. You can even do some of them sitting down or standing up!
- Pelvic pushups - Sit, stand or sit and draw in the pelvic floor muscles. You should be able to feel a strong sensation under your bladder of these muscles contracting. Do this slowly and once you are fully contracted, hold the position for a good five seconds or more. Let the muscles relax and then repeat a few times. A variation on this exercise is to do the same muscle tightening but with quick, pulse-like contractions, without holding the position.
- Bridge squeeze - Lie on your back with your arms down by your sides, preferably on an exercise mat. Put the soles of your feet on the floor, so your knees bend and your lower legs are straight up. Between the knees squeeze an exercise ball, (a small one!), and as you do, tighten your pelvic muscles and raise your pelvis so that your hips come off the ground but keeping the body straight. Hold the 'bridge' for five seconds or longer and slowly roll the body down.
Next week we will look at some more pelvic floor exercises to make you feel tighter and toned in all the right places.