Have you ever suffered leakage while lifting in the gym? Ever laughed a little too hard, only to feel the horror of a lower body warming sensation? If so, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, and you’re most certainly not alone.
In Australia, one in four men over the age of 15 are incontinent. That equates to around 4.8 million Australians, making incontinence doubly as prevalent as asthma.
The Continence Foundation of Australia warns without adjusting bad habits, not having healthy bowels can cause problems now that will only get worse as we age.
“Apart from prostate disease or surgery, the big culprits for men developing incontinence are: being overweight, suffering constipation, too much or too little fluid consumption, heavy lifting and ageing.”
For the majority of the population, incontinence is preventable, treatable, even curable. Foundation CEO, Rowan Cockerell shares the habits that can lead to an embarrassing situation.
1. Lifting heavy weights or being overweight
Consistently lifting heavy weights or carrying extra body weight can strain your pelvic floor muscles. The pelvic floor muscles are part of the body’s core muscle group, holding up the abdominal organs and helping close off the urinary and anal sphincters. Stretching these important muscles compromises their ability to shut off the sphincters, which are critical for staying continent.
Prevention: Keeping your body within the healthy weight range will significantly reduce the likelihood of urinary leakage. (Losing just 5 to 10 per cent of body weight reduces the incidence of urinary incontinence by around 70 percent.)
By engaging the pelvic floor, or bracing, before any heavy lifting or high-impact action, there will be less strain on the pelvic floor. Like any muscles, the pelvic floor muscles can be strengthened with specific exercises.
Regularly straining on the toilet has the same effect on the pelvic floor as heavy lifting and being overweight. Further exacerbating this, a full, impacted bowel can take up so much space in the abdominal cavity that it presses on the bladder and causes urge incontinence (going suddenly and often).
Prevention: Having a balanced diet that includes at least 30 grams of fibre daily, regular exercise and adequate fluid intake are all essential for preventing constipation. It’s also important you empty your bowel as soon as you get the urge (most strongly felt in the morning) and avoid holding on, as this will cause the stool to dry and harden as it sits in the colon.
3. Drinking too much or too little.
Not drinking enough fluids can cause leakage because concentrated urine irritates the bladder, which causes it to want to expel its contents, resulting in urgency and frequency. Too many caffeinated or fizzy drinks, which also irritate the bladder, can have the same effect.
Conversely, drinking too much – particularly alcohol – puts men at a greater risk of accidental leakage. Apart from the bladder’s struggle to contain so much fluid, alcohol is particularly risky because it of its diuretic properties.
Management: Drink enough to satisfy your thirst, which equates to about six to eight glasses of fluid on a normal day; more if the weather’s hot or you’re exercising. You’ll know you’re drinking the right amount by the colour of your urine, which should be pale lemon colour.
4. Ageing (yep, it’s inevitable)
As we age the muscles and nerves that control our bladder and bowel function become less compliant and responsive.
Management: Exercise, including pelvic floor exercises, will strengthen and tone the pelvic floor muscles, which are important in preventing accidental leakage. Better still, pelvic floor muscle exercises can also help with sexual health/function.