Start squeezing, ladies. Kegel exercises used to be the brunt of many giggles, but lately they’re being hailed as a must-do for better health.
After all, having a strong pelvic floor can prevent a number of not-so-fun conditions that fall under the umbrella of pelvic floor disorders (PFDs), which include conditions like urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.
Your pelvic floor is an area of the body that includes muscles, ligaments and connective tissue in the lowest part of the pelvis. When working properly, it supports your bowel, bladder, uterus, vagina and rectum — and actually prevents them from falling down.
When the muscles are weak or there are tears in the tissue, however, the pelvic floor doesn’t work properly — and the organs in it can be affected. According to Johns Hopkins University, about half of all women will have a pelvic floor condition by the time they reach the age of 55.
So, Kegel tech
Incontinence (loss of bladder control due to weak pelvic floor) product commercials are now on the air and in our favorite magazines — more women are speaking out about everything from needing bladder slings to admitting that they pee when they sneeze.
As a result, more people seem interested in making Kegels a regular part of their routine. (I admit I am: Recently, I jumped up and cheered when the Patriots defeated the Ravens, and realized that “holding it” during the fourth quarter might not have been a good idea.)
Along with disposable products designed to capture leaks discreetly, some high-tech products have emerged to help women with pelvic floor disorders. The Smart Kegel Exercise Aid, or SKEA, involves a smartphone-controlled device and whimsical game (“Alice in Continent”) that help women practice these exercises. kGoal is another one that uses a device and a smartphone to guide in Kegel fitness.
How do you know if you’re doing Kegels right, though — whether you’re simply squeezing à la old school or going for the high-tech approach?
According to the folks behind KegelSmart, it uses intelligent touch sensors to register pelvic floor strength during each exercise session, and automatically sets an exercise level to match the user’s strength. “There’s no need to count contractions or use a stopwatch, and no distracting app is required,” the company stated in a release.
Simply insert the device and contract your muscles when it vibrates. Then, rest when it stops. The product is cleared by the Food and Drug Administration, and is on sale in the U.S.
Who knows, maybe these devices will be at your favorite store soon… perhaps next to heart rate monitors and iPhone cases?
But do Kegels work?
Can Kegels really help reverse PFDs? That’s up for debate. (Though they have been hailed to also improve sex!).
Serena Chen, a fertility specialist with Saint Barnabas Medical Center in New Jersey, said that many factors affect the strength of a woman’s pelvic floor. Genetics, obesity and vaginal deliveries can weaken the pelvic floor. Hormones can also maintain health of the pelvic floor because they maintain blood flow.
“Kegels can reverse some of these negative effects,” Chen said, noting that muscle strength throughout the body is vital for good health. “The more we learn about aging, the more we find that the closest thing we have to the fountain of youth is a good exercise program practiced on a regular basis,” she said. “Kegels should be part of that.”