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Incontinence

21 June 2018

Yoga may be the right move against urinary incontinence

'Downward dog' your way to a healthy bladder.

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Yoga can help older women who fight frequent bouts of urinary incontinence, new research suggests.

The finding stems from a small study of participants in yoga classes specifically designed to help older women with urinary incontinence. They were between the ages of 55 and 83, and none had practiced yoga before joining the study.

A dramatic change

"In spite of their age, the frequency of their incontinence and their lack of experience with yoga, these women were able to learn to practise yoga effectively through a three-month yoga programme that involved twice weekly group classes with six to 10 other incontinent women," said study author Dr Alison Huang.

"And by the end of the programme, women in the yoga group reported more than a 75% decrease in the frequency of their incontinence, a pretty dramatic change," she added.

Huang is urology co-director of the resident research training programme at the University of California.

Her team shared its findings at a meeting of the American Urological Association. Four to eight percent of the world's population suffer from urinary incontinence. The 56 women in this study experienced the problem several times a day, every day, Huang said.

The class included 15 standard yoga poses and specialised techniques that emphasised posture and breath control. The aim was for the women to develop an increased awareness of their "pelvic floor structure".

A huge drop

The other women took part in an alternative exercise group that focused on stretching and strengthening, but without an emphasis on the pelvic area.

Both groups met twice a week, and did a weekly session at home. All other treatments for incontinence were stopped during the yoga and exercise interventions.

In the end, women in the alternative exercise class saw the frequency of their incontinence fall by more than 50%. But those in the pelvis-focused yoga class saw their urinary incontinence frequency drop by roughly 75%. 

Huang said the study showed that yoga can help women strengthen their pelvic floor without traditional rehabilitation therapy. "Regular practice of yoga poses can also improve general physical fitness and conditioning, which has been shown to be protective against urinary incontinence in frailer older women," she said.

Considerable benefit

Huang added that yoga techniques incorporating deep breathing and mindful relaxation can also improve women's anxiety, perceived stress and nervous system balance – factors that may contribute to an overactive bladder and urgent need to urinate.

She said other types of physical activity are probably worthwhile for older women with incontinence as well, given the considerable benefit seen by women in the non-yoga exercise group.

"Although we believe that the study yoga programme has unique benefits for women with incontinence that go above and beyond what we might expect to see with other physical activity-based interventions, it's probably also beneficial for older women with incontinence to take part in other activities that improve their overall muscle strength and conditioning," Huang said.

Dr Meena Davuluri, a urology resident with the Albert Einstein/Montefiore Health System in New York City, said yoga offers some advantages over standard incontinence treatment care.

"In general, it's really hard to get patients to engage in behavioural modification," she said. "But with yoga you not only address and help with incontinence, but you also promote an overall healthy lifestyle change. And you do so in a group environment, so you're doing this together with other women who are going through the same thing."

Yoga is also an option for patients who want to avoid medications, Davuluri said.

"But yoga specifically designed for this issue is not widespread yet," she noted. "So we have to figure out how to implement this. This is just the beginning."

Image credit: iStock

 

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Incontinence Expert

Prenevin Govender completed his MBChB at the University of Cape Town in 2001. He obtained his Fellowship of the College of Urologists in 2009 and graduated with distinction for a Masters in Medicine from the University of Cape Town in 2010. His special interests include laparoscopic, pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence surgery. He consults full-time at Life Kingsbury Hospital in Claremont.

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