(BPT) - Making your annual New Year's resolution? This year, try something new - something that takes a little effort but delivers big.
Try hitting the floor - your pelvic floor. No gym membership required. This is one set of muscles you can exercise virtually any time, anywhere: in the car, at your desk, in line at the grocery store, even during long elevator rides.
Pelvic floor muscle exercises (PFME) can help strengthen the muscles under the uterus, bladder and bowel, which tend to weaken after childbirth and around menopause. If you've experienced bladder leakage - one in three women will at some point in their lifetime - PFME is first line treatment, according to the American College of Physicians and the American Urologic Association.
Leslie M. Rickey, MD and associate professor of urology and obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale University, says there are many benefits to strengthening the pelvic floor including:
* Reducing or eliminating the urine leakage that happens during exercise or with a cough, sneeze, or laugh
* Improving sexual function; women with pelvic floor muscle strength report having stronger orgasms and more sexual satisfaction
* Reducing symptoms from pelvic organ prolapse
* Improving core strength and stability
* Improving muscle control and confidence.
How do you get started, especially if you've tried kegels and been frustrated? Here are some suggestions from Stacey Futterman, PT, MPT, WCS, a nationally recognized physical therapist specializing in pelvic floor physical therapy and founder of 5 Point Physical Therapy PLLC in New York City.
1. First, find the right muscles to tighten. A good way to do this is to relax, then tighten the muscles you use to control urine flow or stop gas from happening. You shouldn't see anything else tighten, such as your thighs, when you are contracting the right muscles. It should be easy and never produce discomfort.
2. Keep in mind the 'relaxing' portion of the exercise is just as important as the contraction. Over-clenching can shorten muscles of the pelvic floor.
3. Be sure to keep your abdominal, buttocks and thigh muscles relaxed while doing pelvic floor muscle training exercises. Then, when you get good at isolating these muscles, you can begin to use these muscles simultaneously while doing other exercises such as squats and lunges, or anything that is part of your regular exercise routine.
4. Commit to a daily schedule of exercising just 2 minutes, or three sets of 10 reps a day.
5. If you do not see results after 6-8 weeks, or have any discomfort while doing the exercises, consult with a physical therapist or a health care professional or consider a home training system that provides biofeedback. The PeriCoach System (pericoach.com) is cleared by the FDA and has been evaluated by OBGYNs, general practitioners, and physical therapists. It is a device and smartphone app you can trust to take the guesswork out of PFMEs by measuring the muscles that matter, tracking your progress and reminding you to exercise.
Make this the year to take control of your pelvic floor health and experience the benefits.