By Intimate Health Expert Stephanie Taylor, Founder of Kegel8
Ageing is one of the only things we can be certain about in our lives. Yet up to 87 percent of people have FOGO – the “fear of getting old”.
You may be worried about the signs of ageing you can see, like fine lines, grey hairs and sagging skin, there are many other invisible changes your body undergoes as it ages too.
One of these changes is to your pelvic floor – the muscular hammock that holds your pelvic organs in place – which without training weakens as you age. And over time, this can impact your sexual sensation, cause bladder incontinence and lead to painful prolapse.
In a recent focus group held by Kegel8, women blamed a lack of education in their early years for their pelvic floor problems in later life and felt it should be treated like any other muscle group, with training introduced as early as school.
To help, Stephanie Taylor, Founder of intimate health company Kegel8, offers her advice on the best ways you can age-proof your pelvic floor, starting now…
1. Don’t sit down for too long
Sitting down is unavoidable, especially if you have a desk job. But the longer you sit during the day, the more pressure you exert on the “hammock,” causing damage, especially if you have bad posture.
The way you hold your body when you sit engages and relaxes different muscles. If you sit with good posture, your core and pelvic floor muscles are strengthened. If you sit with bad posture, hunching over or leaning forward, this tilts your pelvis forward and puts too much pressure on your pelvic floor muscles.
When you sit, think of a string being pulled upwards from your coccyx at the base of your spine to the top of your head, while lightly engaging your core and back. Over time, maintaining this position will become easier until it is automatic.
2. Avoid these bladder-stimulating foods
Your food and drink choices could leave you with an overactive bladder, which weakens the pelvic floor muscles over time.
Try to avoid caffeinated drinks like tea, coffee and certain fizzy drinks. Caffeine irritates the tissues of the bladder and can increase your risk of “leaks”. The same goes for alcohol, which is a diuretic causing you to pass urine more frequently, putting the bladder under pressure.
Artificial sugars and sweeteners, found in low calorie drinks, cakes and other treats, together with spicy food, highly acidic fruit and vegetables and salt, can also cause urge incontinence in some people.
To age-proof your pelvic floor, drink plenty of water every day, eat high-fibre foods, switch to caffeine-free hot beverages, minimise your alcohol intake and up your consumption of Omega-3 Fatty Acids.
3. Do the right kind of exercises
Reaching the 10,000 daily steps target is a low-impact way of maintaining strong muscles, bones and pelvic floor. Yoga and swimming are also great additions to your weekly routine.
There are also specific exercises you can do to strengthen your pelvic floor, called Kegels and these should be introduced into your daily fitness routine.
For manual exercises, sit, stand, or lie with your knees slightly apart. Slowly tighten your pelvic floor muscles, starting with your anus (as if you are trying not to pass wind) then tighten around your vagina or penis, squeeze both areas and ‘suck-up’ your muscles as hard as you can. Hold for the count of five, then relax, and repeat five times.
To get a stronger pelvic floor work out, invest in an electronic pelvic toner. These use Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (NMES) to stimulate and strengthen your muscles in the right way, every time.
4. Quit nicotine
While the harms of smoking are well known, many aren’t aware that nicotine can cause stress and urge incontinence.
A theory is that nicotine, which passes through your kidneys and collects in the urine, can damage the cells of your bladder wall. The more damage to the bladder, the more difficult it is to control your bladder and prevent incontinence.
Nicotine can also irritate the bladder, giving you the urge to urinate frequently, even when your bladder isn’t full. This is bad news for your pelvic floor.
5. Take these supplements
Your body is naturally deficient in a lot of vitamins and proteins – and this only worsens with age.
As women hit the menopause, collagen levels plummet rapidly. Collagen is essential for pelvic floor muscle strength and elasticity, therefore it’s important to introduce a supplement into your diet.
You can also give your pelvic floor a head-start by taking Vitamin D, especially during autumn and winter. Without enough of it, muscle mass and strength are depleted which can lead to a pelvic organ prolapse.
Magnesium is another wonder supplement as it reduces constipation. Constipation is detrimental for the pelvic floor due to the constant straining to have a bowel movement. The weight and discomfort of a full bowel resting and dragging on weakened pelvic floor muscles and fascia is also harmful.