Whether you’re after better sex or fewer trips to the loo, your action plan starts with strengthening your pelvic floor muscles. And you’re not alone. A weak pelvic floor is common, particularly as we age. It’s important to keep your pelvic muscles strong and toned, just like any other muscle in your body. If left unchecked, a weak pelvic floor can lead to all sorts of problems, from urinary incontinence to to pelvic organ prolapse (POP). Fortunately there are things we can do about a weak pelvic floor.
‘We can strengthen it by correctly engaging it and challenging it to do more,’ says physical therapist Amy Hoover. ‘The key is knowing how to contract, isolate and engage it. This can be difficult for women, as it is a deep muscle that we cannot easily visualise, so we must “feel” that we are doing it correctly.’
To identify the muscle, imagine you are having a wee, then stop it mid-flow – that’s the muscle. ‘When done, the pelvic floor contracts to close the openings in the urethra, vagina and anus,’ says Amy. ‘You can see this with a hand mirror. Watch the perineum (the area between your vagina and anus) as you tighten the pelvic floor. It should lift up into the pelvis, away from your mirror. Avoid holding your breath and don’t use your abdominals.
‘Practicing pelvic floor contractions – or kegels as they are called – is important for maintaining good strength and connection with this muscle group,’ explains Amy.
Try this exercise to strengthen a weak pelvic floor
ONE: Relax, then squeeze in the muscles around your front passage as though trying to stop the flow of urine.
TWO: Squeeze in the muscles around the vagina and suck upwards.
THREE: Next, squeeze the muscles around the anus as though trying to stop passing wind. Try not to tense your tummy muscles.
FOUR: Take note of which muscles are contracted, then relax.
FIVE: Try and repeat 10 times quickly in and out, and then 10 times slowly, holding for 10 seconds and properly relaxing in between. Repeat this once or twice a day.
SIX: You can also strengthen weak pelvic floor muscles through everyday use. ‘Day-to-day movements are a great opportunity to engage the pelvic floor,’ says Amy. ‘We need these muscles to support the pelvic organs but also to stabilise the pelvis, which is the centre of our skeletal system. Because of this, we use these muscles whenever we are upright and even more when we move. Being mindful of engaging our core (pelvic floor and abdominals) before we move can help protect our joints, and provide the stability and balance our body needs to move with proper muscle patterns and mechanics.’
Therefore, to keep weak pelvic floor muscles at bay, Amy suggests: ‘Try tightening the pelvic floor and drawing in the lower abdominal muscles before you get up from a chair, lift something from the floor, balance on one leg or go up the stairs.’
Once your pelvic floor muscles are stronger, you’ll start finding that you spend less and less time looking for a toilet (or worrying about it) whenever you’re out and about. In addition, it could give your sex life a good boost by making you more sensitive and improving orgasms.