I know I am – or rather my pelvic floor is. After giving birth to three children I’ve not done a bad job of keeping fit and well, yet, if I’m honest, I’ve neglected my pelvic floor (other than when anyone says those two words and I clench it like my organs’ depend on it, as I suspect you’re now doing). It’s just always felt like that one more thing to do, which, says personal trainer Rosie Stockley (mamawell.org), is common: ‘It’s out of sight, so it’s easily out of mind.’
And, yes, I have the stress incontinence to prove it. I make excuses when my three-year-old wants me to go on her trampoline, and I get more than I bargained for when I sneeze. I’m not alone. A recent survey of 2,000 women by Tena revealed nearly 20 per cent of women aged 35 to 65 avoid exercise for fear of accidents, with many wearing dark leggings just in case. In fact, 70 per cent of women in this age group experience light incontinence. And the worst part of it is, says Stockley, many suffer in silence, feeling it’s something they just have to put up with.
While, for an exercise class, I’m tempted to don Tena’s Silhouette Washable Absorbent Underwear (£29.99, tenadirect.co.uk), which are genius new watertight pants (adult nappy or fitness aid, I can’t quite decide), ultimately, I want a bulletproof pelvic floor so I can run, dance, sneeze and bounce to my heart’s content.
But have I left it too late? No, says pelvic-floor physio Helen Keeble (helenkeeble.co.uk). ‘Whether you’re in your 30s or 70s, you can work at keeping your pelvic floor strong.’ And, she says, you don’t need fancy gadgets – real results come down to simple exercises done correctly (which excludes clenching your muscles tightly all day, which, she warns, is actually detrimental). Pelvic floor work isn’t just for those who have given birth, either – all our muscles weaken over the age of 40.
To help reverse this, you need to start squeezing your pelvic floor:
GET IT RIGHT Previously I’ve been told to imagine my pelvic floor as a lift (squeezing up floor by floor) or envisaging my vagina sucking up spaghetti (!). Keeble confirms that the right way to squeeze is to ‘imagine you are stopping wind’. Why? ‘Two thirds of your pelvic floor muscles are around your back passage, so squeezing from there rather than the front will help with holding urine’ – and your vagina will follow the squeeze anyway.
EASY DOES IT Squeeze just the muscle from your back passage to your vagina. Do not clench your bottom or thighs (or grit your teeth.) And remember to breathe.
MIX IT UP There are two types of pelvic muscle squeezes – short holds and long holds (both are vital for strengthening the different muscles we need when running/ jumping/ sneezing): the short hold – think of it as a fast squeeze or pulse, making sure you release fully after each; the long hold – squeeze your muscles and hold for ten seconds, then release. Start with ten of each type of hold, building up to 20 to 30 of each a day to see results.
ADD GRAVITY While it’s good to start pelvic floor exercises lying down, standing up adds gravity and will lead to greater success. Keeble advises one to two months of lying down, one to two months of sitting then trying standing.
KEEP GOING… For lasting results, do the exercises daily for at least four months.
I’ll see you on the trampoline.
The ultimate screen lock
Time away from our screens is essential for good mental health, but do you feel powerless to turn devices off? Tech-Break, £99.99, is a handy lock box designed to house your digital devices so families can take screen breaks. It has a customisable timed mechanism that only opens once the timer runs out so you can’t break the rules even if you wanted to. Desperate measure or sanity saver? You decide. tech-break.com
It’s in the bag!
I’m celebrating the return to my yoga and gym classes with this sunny yellow Cloud bag (£60, sweatybetty.com). Water resistant, pleasingly tactile and squishy, it’s also plenty big enough to house all my post-gym paraphernalia.