Rethinking Exercise

What a delight to enjoy a family day at our Local Park recently and watch children and parents join in sack races, hula hooping, egg and spoon races, face painting, musical games and tug of war for the dads. While I don’t ever want to return to the days of scrubbing floors and wringing clothes, isn’t it time we returned to more enjoyable, functional activities for fitness and wellbeing? Our mothers and grandmothers exercised their bodies at home with slower, controlled movements when polishing floors, poking the copper full of clothes, gardening, caring for children, strolling after dinner or swimming at the local river or beach.

Various fitness crazes abound today with boot camps, spinning classes, heavy weights classes and bursts of vigorous exercise which are unsuitable for many women’s bodies. The growth of fitness centers has exploded in the last decade and are promoted as the new way to exercise,  since cars and other home labour saving devices have removed so much daily activity.

Frenetic exercise is often viewed by younger women as the way to control weight gains. Research is now showing that mad bursts of exercise makes us hungrier (and we eat more), rather than thinner. Weight control comes with eating more fresh food and staying active during the day. Calories are continually burned with stair climbing, walking, gardening, playing with the kids or dancing to favorite tunes. Slower forms of exercises such as Tai chi and yoga make us more aware of our bodies’ abilities, needs and limitations. Our exercise and sporting choices should suit our age, and physical ability.

Unfortunately, many women’s pelvic floors are not coping well with punishing exercise routines in abdominal, balance and core classes, rapid heavy weight lifting and spinning classes. Young mothers, pregnant women, menopausal and senior women are aggravating bladder urgency; incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse through unsuitable exercise routines.   Heavy exercise produces strong increases of intra-abdominal pressure down onto the pelvic floor. A quick, strong, coordinated and sustained pelvic floor muscle lift is needed to resist this pressure rise or the pelvic floor is strained downwards, causing gradual or in some cases, sudden injury. When pelvic floor muscles are weak they fatigue early during exercise sessions, long before other body muscles.

It’s time to rethink how women are being trained in fitness centers and in sporting programs. Women’s pelvic health will be advanced when fitness instructors and coaches are educated about the effect of exercise on the female pelvic floor. As yet, exercise screening questionnaires do not contain questions to alert the trainer or coach to the presence of pelvic floor dysfunction in women they are about to train.