10 top tips for a strong and healthy pelvic floor

08 August 2023

More than 60% of women living in the UK experience at least one symptom of poor pelvic floor health, according to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG)1.

And women are not the only ones who suffer. Pelvic floor dysfunction, the symptoms of which can include urinary incontinence, uncontrollable flatulence, and painful organ prolapse, also affects men and even children.

So, here are our top 10 tips for strengthening your pelvic floor - whatever your symptoms.

10 tips for a strong and healthy pelvic floor

1. Exercising is important for overall health at all ages. And the best way to stay active is to do sports or activities that you enjoy.

However, if better pelvic floor health is your goal, it might prove sensible to swap high-impact exercise like jogging and aerobics for strengthening activities such as Pilates and yoga.

Pilates in particular is designed to strengthen your core muscles, which makes it a great way to combat stress incontinence brought on by everyday actions such as coughing or laughing.

2. Do daily pelvic floor exercises

As well as staying generally active, people with pelvic floor dysfunction can make a big difference to their symptoms simply by getting into the habit of doing pelvic floor exercises.

The NHS has this advice:

  • To strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, sit comfortably and squeeze the muscles 10 to 15 times.
  • Do not hold your breath or tighten your stomach, bottom, or thigh muscles at the same time.
  • When you get used to doing pelvic floor exercises, you can try holding each squeeze for a few seconds.

It also advocates a rest between each set of exercises.

3. Practise both long and short contractions

Once you've got the hang of pelvic floor exercises, it can also be beneficial to vary the length of time for which you squeeze your pelvic floor muscles.

If you can, try to follow a series of 10 short contractions with one longer one that lasts up to 10 seconds (not forgetting to breathe while you're doing it!).

Then repeat until the muscles tire.

You can do this once or several times a day; the more you practice, the greater the improvement you should see.

4. Drink lots of water

You might think taking on a lot of fluid would make urinary incontinence symptoms worse, not better.

But in fact, limiting your fluid intake can intensify incontinence by reducing your bladder's capacity.

It can also cause constipation - or make an existing case of constipation worse - which is more bad news for your pelvic floor.

So, try to drink plenty of water, and other liquids such as milk, juice or tea, every day.

Current NHS guidelines are to drink between six and eight glasses of fluid a day.

5. Lose any excess weight

Being overweight can weaken your pelvic floor muscles due to the extra pressure fatty tissue places on your bladder.

If you are overweight, losing the excess weight could therefore be enough to make your pelvic floor dysfunction symptoms disappear completely.

From a dietary point of view, it's also sensible to avoid spicy and acidic foods, such as curries and orange juice, as they can irritate the bladder and make incontinence symptoms worse.

6. Avoid heavy lifting

Lifting heavy weights, whether in the gym or at home when you pick up your toddler, puts strain on your pelvic floor muscles.

If you have pelvic floor dysfunction, it should therefore be avoided whenever possible.

If you need to lift something, meanwhile, it's important to tighten your pelvic muscles before and during the lift to protect your pelvic floor from further damage.

7. Control your vices

Whatever your vice, it probably won't help your pelvic floor dysfunction symptoms.

Caffeine irritates the bladder and can make incontinence worse; alcohol is a diuretic, which makes you urinate more often and can therefore exacerbate incontinence; and smoking is a bad idea because coughing puts unnecessary strain on your pelvic floor muscles.

So, cutting down, or stopping altogether, is a great way to improve pelvic floor health.

8. Manage constipation

Straining on the loo weakens your pelvic floor muscles, so it's important to treat constipation promptly to avoid further problems.

Diet and lifestyle changes such as doing more exercise and eating more fibre can often help.

You may also find it beneficial to place a footstool under your feet when on the loo, as this can help you to empty your bowels more effectively.

9. Use an app to motivate/remind you

The NHS Squeezy app2 is specifically designed to help people with pelvic floor dysfunction manage their symptoms.

Not only does it explain how to do pelvic floor exercises to ensure maximum effectiveness; it also sends prompts or reminders to do your exercises to your mobile phone.

Other features include a symptoms diary to help you keep track of your progress.

Alternatively, you can simply train yourself to do your pelvic floor exercises at the same time as naturally occurring daily events such as driving to work or brushing your teeth.

10. Seek professional help

Although more than 600 men and women worldwide experience pelvic floor dysfunction at some point in their lives, many suffer in silence because they feel too embarrassed to seek help.

Don't be one of them! There are lots of treatment options available, depending on your symptoms.

And one of the most popular - and effective - is doing pelvic floor exercises, either alone or under the guidance of a pelvic health physiotherapist.

You can find a practitioner near you using this handy directory.

If you're struggling with your symptoms, it's also always worth making an appointment with your GP.

Believe us - it won't be the first time he or she has encountered someone with poor pelvic floor health.


About the author

Jessica Bown is a freelance writer and journalist.