Coping With Bladder Control Problems During Exercise

Helpful Tips to Avoid Stress and Embarrassment

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Urinary incontinence, the loss of bladder control, is a problem that is not only common but often embarrassing. It ranges from occasional bladder leakage whenever you cough or sneeze to the sudden and severe loss of bladder control. Urinary leakage tends to affect women more than men and can occur during exercise if pressure placed on the bladder itself.

Urinary incontinence is common in older people but is not an inevitable part of aging. Other causes include pregnancy, neurologic disorders, prostate problems, and even foods and medications that have a diuretic effect. Fortunately, there are things you can to do better prevent bladder leakage when working out.


Age can contribute to urinary incontinence as the muscles that control urination gradually lose their tone. Some of the muscles involved are involuntary, but others are voluntary and may improve with focused training.

Among some of the other common causes of incontinence:

  • Childbirth, which can damage bladder nerves and urinary tract muscles, usually temporarily
  • Constipation, which can place direct pressure on the bladder
  • Diabetes, which increases the risk of incontinence by 70 percent in women
  • Menopause, as the loss of estrogen can affect the lining of the bladder and urethra
  • Neurological disorders, including multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and stroke
  • Pregnancy, during which the developing fetus presses against the bladder
  • Prostate problems, including prostate cancer
  • Urinary tract infection, which can trigger urinary urgency (the urge to urinate frequently)
  • Urinary tract obstruction, including urinary stones and tumors

Food and medications can also increase the passing of urine, albeit temporarily. The culprits include alcohol, caffeine, chili, citrus fruit, high-dose vitamin C, artificial sweeteners, and diuretics used to treat high blood pressure and other conditions.

Coping During Exercise

Dealing with urinary incontinence during exercise can be frustrating, particularly if you are not sure what is causing the problem. Start by seeing your doctor, who can perform tests to diagnose the likely causes. In some cases, a change of diet or medication is all that is needed to achieve bladder control.

Other cases may not be so easy to treat. In some cases, you will need to manage your condition by pre-planning outings and managing your fluid intake.

On top of this, you should focus on improving your urinary health, including strengthening the muscles involved in urination. One such approach involves kegel exercises which focus the pelvic floor muscles that support the bladder, colon, rectum, and uterus.

Kegel exercises are especially useful for women who experience urinary leakage when sneezing or coughing. They are less useful for severe bladder leakage or for incontinence caused by a full bladder (overflow incontinence).

Even more important, perhaps, is the need to maintain good urinary tract health. This involves drinking plenty of water (at least eight 8-ounce glasses per day), maintain a healthy weight, and using the bathroom often and when needed rather than trying to hold it.

Tips and Advice

When exercising indoors or partaking in outdoor sporting events, there are things you can do to reduce the risk of urinary leakage and urgency:

  • Avoid known irritants that stimulate your bladder and urethra. These include caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco.
  • Avoid non-prescription drugs and supplements that increase the activity of your kidneys. These include water pills, antidepressants, antihistamines, and cough/cold preparations (including herbal supplements such as ma huang).
  • If planning a walk or run, drink a large glass of water an hour beforehand and then urinate shortly before you run. This ensures that you are well-hydrated but have eliminated any excess fluid.
  • Plan your restroom breaks in advance of an outdoor event. There are apps you can download (such as SitOrSquat) that show you where the toilets are located along with a pre-planned route.
  • If bladder leakage occurs during workouts, try replacing high-impact exercises, like jumping, with controlled resistance training. You may also need to avoid lifting excessively heavy weights and find other means to effectively train those muscles (including eccentric weight training).
  • If you have severe bladder control issues, do yourself a favor and get disposable bladder control underwear. Newer products are extremely effective and less bulky than in the past. They also provide you peace of mind if you are on a lengthy run or outing.

What you should not do is avoid drinking water to avoid urination. Doing so can lead to dehydration, which places greater stress on the urinary tract. Instead, know where the nearest bathrooms are and go as often as you need to.

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By Wendy Bumgardner
Wendy Bumgardner is a freelance writer covering walking and other health and fitness topics and has competed in more than 1,000 walking events.