5 healthy habits that will help keep your bladder strong

Incontinence can be debilitating, uncomfortable and embarrassing – but there are a few simple things you can do to help keep it at bay.

Urinary incontinence – involuntary leakage of urine from the bladder – is surprisingly common.

“Incontinence is not just an ‘old people’s condition’; it affects more than five million Australians and one in four people aged 15 or over are incontinent,” says pelvic health physiotherapist Annabelle Citroen.

What causes urinary incontinence?

“There are so many misconceptions out there,” says Annabelle.

Among them is the belief that “natural” childbirth is to blame for pelvic health problems.

“While vaginal deliveries can contribute to pelvic floor muscle weakness, so too can pregnancy alone due to associated weight increases and subsequent pressure on the pelvic floor,” says Annabelle.

In fact, incontinence is not exclusive to women.

“Men too have pelvic floor muscles, which serve similar roles in bladder and bowel control and sexual function, and which can also develop weakness resulting in incontinence,” says Annabelle.

She says the causes of incontinence are often misunderstood, which in turn can discourage people from seeking medical advice.

“There’s this belief that pelvic health conditions are a normal part of the ageing process and therefore, something one has to ‘live with’, which is simply untrue,” says Annabelle.

“Because pelvic health conditions are more common with advanced age, investing in prevention earlier in life can help reduce the risk of developing a pelvic health condition.”

How to prevent incontinence and improve symptoms

Good bladder and bowel habits, and maintaining overall physical health, are key to preventing incontinence, says Annabelle.

This World Continence Week (15-22 June), the Continence Foundation of Australia is encouraging these five healthy habits to promote a long, independent and continent life:

1. Stay active

Incorporating at least 30 minutes of physical activity into every day can help you stay physically fit and at a healthy weight.

2. Eat well

Be sure to include adequate dietary fibre from a variety of plant sources each day, to promote good digestive health.

3. Drink well

Ensure consumption of adequate fluids to maintain bladder and digestive health.

Drinks that contain caffeine and alcohol can irritate your bladder, so water is the best choice.

4. Exercise your pelvic floor

A well-functioning pelvic floor is your best insurance against incontinence – and the good news is it can be trained regardless of your age, gender or fitness level.

“Kegels, otherwise known as pelvic floor muscle exercises, have a significant role to play in optimal pelvic health,” says Annabelle.

“Well-functioning pelvic floor muscles are those that are strong enough to support and control the bladder and bowel, and at the same time need to be able to relax effectively to allow easy and complete bladder and bowel emptying.”

If you’ve never done Kegels, a physiotherapist who specialises in pelvic health can help you learn the best technique.

5. Practise good toilet habits

Sometimes you may be tempted to go to the toilet “just in case”.

But over time, this can reduce your bladder’s holding capacity, meaning you may not be able to hold for as long as you need to.

How to get professional help

“Addressing the five healthy habits is a good place to start,” says Annabelle. “Beyond that, chat to your trusted health care provider, or a continence or pelvic health professional.”

The Continence Foundation of Australia has a free, confidential helpline on 1800 330 066 and can provide information and advice as well as details of local continence service providers.

Written by Charlotte Brundrett.