Incontinence is not “just a normal part of aging”! I don’t ever want to hear this again. We don’t have to resign ourselves to wearing pads or Depends when our body decides to give out. All of us are constantly fighting the signs of aging, from wrinkles in our skin, to memory loss. Some even focus on preventing muscle weakness which, as a physical therapist, is what I focus on every day when working with the aging population. Muscle weakness affects our posture, our bone strength, our lung volume and, yes, our continence.
One of the biggest factors contributing to the decrease of our muscle strength is the gradual decline of estrogen that begins slowly after the age of 25 and then speeds up during and after menopause. This drop in estrogen is associated with a loss of or thinning out of the connective tissues in our body and includes bone and muscle. One of the muscular areas of our body that is always fighting against gravity and constantly having to hold up the weight of our abdomen is our pelvic floor. So, not very surprisingly, as we lose muscular strength of our pelvic floor we begin to see signs of this weakness as incontinence and/or prolapse.
The positive message I have for you is that we can blunt these normal aging processes simply by exercising our muscles appropriately. A regular cardio program can significantly reduce our loss in lung volume as we age, resistance training of our upper and lower body can reduce our bone loss as we age, and specific pelvic floor and “abdominal basket” training can prevent and/or resolve pelvic floor weakness which can lead to incontinence. You have control over your body, it’s just a matter of exercising it appropriately!