Having reached 50 at the end of last year (Christmas Eve to be exact) and starting 2017 in my next decade, I look around at a lot of my female friends and realise we are all getting in to the same cycle of life at around the same time. Hot flushes, hormone imbalances, weight gain and the dreaded 'knee squeeze' when you sneeze!
There is no denying that some facts of life are just unavoidable, while others we can take control over - and ladies, if you squeeze when you sneeze then looking after your pelvic-floor is a must.
The pelvic floor muscles are shaped like a sling and hold your pelvic organs (uterus, vagina, bowel and bladder) in place. They support your bladder and bowel, and give you control when you urinate - they relax at the same time as the bladder contracts (tightens) to let urine out. But childbirth, weight gain and plain old ageing can have a detrimental effect on their fitness.
Pelvic floor exercise, also known as Kegel exercise, consists of repeatedly contracting and relaxing the muscles that form part of the pelvic floor. There are a lot of Kegel trainers around, designed to help you with these exercises, and even to do them for you, so we had a look at some of the options available today.
Manual Exercise You can find a simple example of how to exercise on sites such as WebMD. If you are dedicated and can locate the right muscles correctly then this is a good place to start. However, sometimes it is good to have a little help and guidance to make sure you are getting it right. I have tried these exercises throughout the last 25 years since having my first child but it is easy to get them wrong without guidance, and it is also easy to forget to do them everyday. However, done correctly it is the most cost effective way to improve your pelvic floor, so if you are capable of locating the correct muscles with ease and disciplined enough to keep going then they should work for you.
AquaFlex is a pelvic floor exercise system that is said to be clinically proven, and consists of two weighted exercise cones that have been specially developed to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. They are worn internally for around for 20 minutes, once a day. Results are said to be significant in just 12 weeks. The weights can easily be changed and you work from the larger to smaller cone, and increase the weights, as your muscles strengthen - similar to weightlifting in the gym. Having tried them, I have to say they are very easy to use and you can actually just wear them while you walk around the house. Again, for them to work you have to do the exercises and once they are put back in the box it again comes down discipline, and doing it each day. Pricing is around £25 so it won't break the bank. More information can be found at www.aquaflex-cones.co.uk
Elvie goes a step further and offers an interactive workout where you can track your ability and progress through an app on your phone. It is a little egg-shaped device that sits just inside the vagina. Elvie are the only pelvic floor exercise trainer on the market that can detect if you are doing the exercise correctly (or not), as 1 in 3 women push down, which can strain the muscles, rather than lifting. With a fun reminder every day to make sure you stay on track, Elvie will appeal to the 'geek' in you as it is charged in its case and can be plugged in via a USB connection. It certainly entertained the man in my life for a while when it can out the box! What I like about this product is that you can actually see the results in real-time, and see how well you are doing the exercises. If you set up the app correctly then you will get a reminder the next day to do your exercises again. The Elvie tracks your own personal progress and it is actually encouraging to see this while you wait to feel the results. It does come with a £149 price tag so it is a more expensive investment but if you like apps and want to feel that you are using up-to-date equipment discover more at www.elvie.com
vSculpt is the latest product hitting the headlines and it claims to eliminate the need for any other kegel exercise equipment, while being a pleasure to use. It is said to heals the pelvic floor through a unique combination of thermal loading, photobiomodulation, and sonic vibration. As we have not reviewed this product we can't say how well it works or whether it is worth the £375 price tag - but it does make some very bold claims. More information is available at www.vsculpt.com
Personally, I would recommend the first two options to start, and moving on to the Elvie if your purse allows. Manual exercise is easy and cost-free. You can do it sitting at your desk, or when watching TV - and you do not need to be inserting anything, or cleaning any equipment. The downside is that you do need to be dedicated to it and you need to know where your muscles are and what they are doing, and how well they are doing it. The same for the Aquaflex Cones, they are fairly inexpensive and you don't really have to do too much as they work for you while they are inside, simply by their design. The Elvie takes a bit of getting used to and can frustrate a little if you do not hit your targets. The flip side is that you can actually see how well you are performing though, so it is encouraging you to try harder every day.
With all options the main point to remember is that, just like any keep-fit regime, you do have to do it to see results. The best option for you is the one that fits your lifestyle and works around your daily routine. As with all personal exercise, it requires a personal choice too.
For me, using the Aquaflex Cones prior to the Elvie workout allows me to warm up my pelvic floor beforehand. I am going to continue working with all three of the options I have available because not only do the exercises improve your ability to control stress incontinence, strong pelvic floor muscles help to increase your sexual pleasure - and ladies, we should not be afraid to want a little more in that department too. I certainly notice an increase in my libido after my workouts.