exercise for pelvic floor

Exercise for Pelvic Floor Health

Have you ever started exercising to lose weight and then given up when you haven’t gotten the results you wanted? You’re not alone!

“Often when exercising with weight loss as a focus, we see programming that is not sustainable long term” says Accredited Exercise Physiologist, Esme Soan. This can lead to feeling of failure and cause people to fall off the wagon.

There are so many other reasons to exercise

Many women just see exercise as a way to change their physical shape, but there are SO many more important reasons for women to stay active. Our bodies are far more complex than calories in vs calories out. “Even if the scales don’t change, exercise and activity still creates lots of positive changes in our blood, tissues, muscles, brain and body” says Esme.

We all know the health benefits of staying active. It active helps to:

  • Reduce systemic inflammation
  • Release endorphins
  • Improve blood lipid profile
  • Improve insulin sensitivity
  • Increase muscle strength & endurance
  • Promotes tissue remodelling
  • Increase self-efficacy
  • Improve mental health

But perhaps one of the lesser-known benefits for women is the impact that exercise has on the pelvic floor health.

Why is pelvic floor health important for women?

Pelvic floor health is important for women of all ages & at all stages! “In my work as a Women’s Health Exercise Physiologist, I see women of all ages with pelvic floor issues” says Esme. “From young athletes specialising in sports like horse riding or gymnastics with stress incontinence, through to women in their late 60s who believe that leaking urine is just something they have to deal with since they delivered their children (which is not true!)… I’ve seen it all”.

We know that incontinence and prolapse have very high incidence rates in Australia. One in three women experiences stress urinary incontinence after pregnancies, and one in two experience some degree of pelvic organ prolapse. These conditions can be considered taboo or embarrassing but need to be spoken about! You don’t need to suffer in silence.

Pelvic floor health can be improved with the right management, team, tools, and it’s not just women who have had a baby who should be looking after ‘down there’. We know that exercise (and the way you exercise) can play a big role in the way you manage, improve or perhaps even worsen these conditions.

How to improve pelvic floor health

The pelvic floor is not one muscle. It’s four muscles grouped together with fascia and ligaments as well. This muscle group is a ‘goldilocks’ muscle – too much tension and we can see issues like leaking or pain, but too much weakness and we see these issues too!

Generally speaking, moving more is great for your pelvic floor. It’s not just about Kegels! Movements like squats or sit to stands, glute bridges and pelvic tilts are all helpful for your pelvic floor. Breathing well with diaphragmatic movement (ie breathing into your ribcage, rather than up & down with your shoulders) and maintaining good toileting habits (not hovering over the toilet and managing constipation) are also really important for long term pelvic floor health.

When and where to get help

The best place to start if you have any concerns about your pelvic floor, or if you’ve had a baby, is to see a Pelvic Health Physiotherapist for an internal exam of your pelvic floor.

Women’s Health Accredited Exercise Physiologist then helps to bridge the gap between seeing a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist and returning to (or starting to) exercise!

“Regardless of where you’re starting from, we can help to build a program that will help you to reach your goals, whilst protecting your pelvic floor health!” says Esme.

We recommend working with an Accredited Exercise Physiologist if you:

  • Experience any leaking of urine when you cough, laugh, sneeze or exercise
  • Don’t know what exercises to do, or find movements can cause you pain
  • Have had a baby in the last five years and have concerns about your pelvic floor, including feeling heaviness in your pelvis, or pain during sex
  • Have a condition like prolapse and want to exercise safely. Yes, you can exercise – in fact it’s one of the best things you can do!
  • Have had a hysterectomy or laparoscopy surgery and want support in rehabilitation
  • Are pregnant

To find an Accredited Exercise Physiologist who specialises in women’s health, click here.

Expert Contributor: Esme Soan. Esme is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist and owner of Pear Exercise Physiology.