Good Housekeeping: Your 2-minute essential squeeze

Jen Westley from Monument Clinic: why strengthening exercises are so important for your pelvic floor Good Housekeeping 3rd July 2015 by Nicola Down

But it’s not just mothers who need to keep their pelvic floor fit. Age and changes in oestrogen levels during menopause cause your pelvic floor to weaken, although you have no idea it’s happening. Meanwhile, everything from bad posture and excess weight to high-impact exercise and heavy lifting have a negative effect.
‘You can have a mature woman who has delivered five children and yet still has a strong pelvic floor, and a 20-year-old childless woman with a weak one. There can be lots of factors at play,’ says Jennifer Westley, a women’s health physiotherapist for Six Physio.

And the resulting incontinence is a common – albeit often hush-hush – problem. Figures suggest that one in five women over 40 has some degree of urinary incontinence, although the true number is believed to be significantly higher, as many don’t tell their doctor. ‘A lot of women don’t realise they have pelvic floor strength issues until they get, say, a cough, or are sneezing.jumping or laughing and the extra pressure causes leaking,’ says Jennifer. ‘Many think it’s a normal part of ageing, but in the majority of cases it can be treated or at least significantly improved.’

Which is where pelvic floor exercises – also known as Kegels – come in. When done regularly, they’re proven to both prevent and remedy problems. They certainly have the right idea in France, where every new mother is offered 10-20 sessions of ‘la reeducation perineale’ – pelvic floor-strengthening classes to you and me – and told they need to continue doing Kegels for life.

Fortunately, you don’t need to go on the Eurostar to get the same professional help. ‘If your pelvic floor isn’t doing the job it should be, ask your GP to refer you to a specially trained women’s health  physiotherapist,’ says Cathryn. ‘They can give you an internal exam or use a biofeedback machine to record whether the muscles are activating, plus they’ll offer a pelvic exercise tutorial to ensure you’re  exercising the right muscles in the right way.’

Worryingly, it’s estimated that 30% of us are doing them wrong – if we’re doing them at all. Common mistakes include tensing the wrong muscles, and pushing down instead of lifting up.

Try this sequence to get your pelvic floor fighting fit – and keep it that way.

Like other muscles in your body, the more you exercise your pelvic floor muscles, the stronger they’ll get. What’s more, pelvic floor exercises are quick, easy, effective, and can be done anytime, any place and anywhere. ‘The trick is to make them part of your daily routine,’ says Jennifer. ‘Do them in the morning when you’re making your first cup of tea or after you’ve brushed your teeth at night. Then do extra squeezes whenever you can – at your desk, for example. After about three months of daily exercises – ideally three times a day – you’ll notice results, but you should keep doing them daily to keep the muscles fit and strong.’ If you can’t feel your muscles working or  they seem very weak, seek additional help from a women’s health physiotherapist.

  1. FIND YOUR MUSCLES! It’s important to use the right ones and contract them he right way. Imagine you’re trying to stop yourself passing urine and wind at the same time. The muscles should feel as though they ‘lift and squeeze’ at the same time.
  2. DO LONG AND SLOW SQUEEZES. Slowly lift and squeeze your pelvic muscles as hard as you can, holding the squeeze for several seconds before relaxing for a few seconds. Work up to 10-15 squeezes that you hold for 10 seconds.
  3. DO SHORT AND FAST SQUEEZES. Quickly lift and squeeze your pelvic floor muscles for a second, then relax for a second, working up to 10 quick contractions.

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