As the days get shorter, it’s natural to feel a bit down. But if your mood is dipping so low that you’re skipping normal activities, there could be another problem to blame: Urinary incontinence. Bladder leaks affects half of women over 45, a risk that quadruples as we age. And new research shows these leaks can also take a mental toll, which can lead to low self-worth and depression. “I absolutely see this with my patients,” says Una Lee, MD, a urologist at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health in Seattle. “The burden to find the bathroom and worry about accidents causes them to avoid activities they enjoy.”
Fortunately, resolving incontinence is easier than ever! “When women get their symptoms under control and they’re no longer distressed about having accidents, their entire world view brightens,” says Dr. Lee. Read on for easy ways to eliminate leaks—and the blues that come with them. The only “side effect” will be a happier, healthier you!
Always running to the restroom? Use this kind of pause to relax.
“There’s a strong link between the brain and bladder,” says Dr. Lee. “When you’re calm, your bladder relaxes, so it won’t contract and leak.” In fact, in a recent study, women who practiced mindfulness techniques twice a day for two weeks reduced incontinence episodes by 68 percent, and the practice is well-known to lift mood.
Dr. Lee’s advice: Sit for two minutes daily, breathing deeply. As you exhale, tell yourself, My bladder is healthy. Then, when you worry you won’t make it to the toilet, do the opposite of what panic is saying, and pause. Focus on your senses, like hearing the refrigerator hum. Says Dr. Lee, “This suppresses the urge to go and gives you time to make it to the bathroom.” Bladder leaks be gone!
Leak when you sneeze? Try these easy moves.
Two-thirds of women report significant improvement in leaks when they do kegels, says physical therapist Jessica McKinney. To do: As you exhale, squeeze the vaginal muscles you use to hold in urine. For best results, do three sets of eight to 12 exercises daily.
Also smart: Try yoga. In one study, women who did yoga for three months saw a 76 percent decrease in leakage. “Incontinence is worsened by anxiety, and yoga relieves stress,” says study author Alison Huang, MD. Plus, certain poses improve pelvic-muscle control. A move Dr. Huang likes: Chair pose (bend your knees like you’re in a chair, arms in front of you, thighs parallel to the floor).
Wake up in the night to “go”? Opt for this healing supplement.
“Pumpkin seed extract strengthens pelvic muscles to lower urination frequency,” says Andrea Gažová, Ph.D. Indeed, her research found that supplementing with the extract slashed the urge to urinate at night by 64 percent. Pumpkin is also high in zinc and magnesium, minerals that have been shown to reduce depression and anxiety.
And there may be a bonus effect: “Many women don’t realize the impact of waking up to go to the bathroom until they’re sleeping through the night,” says pelvic floor physical therapist Jessica Reale. “They’re amazed by the improvements in their mood!”
A supplement to try for curbing those bladder leaks: Life Extension Water-Soluble Pumpkin Seed Extract (Buy on Life Extension, $13.50).
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First for Women.