Womens Health

Effects of Exercise on Incontinence

By Frederick R. Jelovsek, M.D.,

High impact activity such as track and field or gymnastics participation, can certainly worsen stress urinary incontinence if a woman already has it. The question is "does high impact exercise cause incontinence?"

In a study by Ingrid E. Nygaard MD, Does prolonged high-impact activity contribute to later urinary incontinence? A retrospective study of female olympians. Obstet Gynecol 1997; 90(5):718-22, former track and field and gymnast female olympians from 1960-1976 (high impact) were compared with swimmers (low impact) from those same years. She looked at outcome prevalance of symptoms of stress (loss of urine with increased abdominal straining such as cough or sneeze) and urge (loss of urine with an urge to void but cannot make it to the toilet in time) urinary incontinence.

Results of Study

She found no significant difference in symptoms of any stress incontinence between the high impact group (41%) and the low impact group (50%). When looking only at moderate or great bother from the stress incontinence, there was a difference in the high and low impact groups (10.7% vs. 4.2%) but it was not statistically significant. Interestingly, the high impact athletes reported a 36% loss of urine while doing their sport as olympians compared with only 5% of the swimmers. Other studies have noted up to a 25% prevalance of urinary incontinence in the varsity female athletes.

The bottom line is that while some loss of urine with straining is prevalent in many women, even trained athletes, impact from sports probably does not contribute at all to causing stress incontinence in later life.


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