You're toiling on the treadmill, Stairmaster, or recumbent bicycle -- and the accident happens: a little urinary incontinence. Small leaks can occur whether you're a teen or a woman in her 20s and upward. Often incontinence starts after childbirth or as the result of athletic injuries. Some men have incontinence problems after prostate surgery.
"Unfortunately, people [with incontinence] stop doing things they enjoy, like high-impact aerobics," says Roger Dmochowski, MD, a urologist and director of the Vanderbilt Continence Center in Nashville, Tenn.
Lou Dunn is one of those women who's always on the go. The Pittsburgh mother and wife runs her own calligraphy business and usually has energy to burn.
But for years, her active schedule was hampered by a serious downside. Nature called way too often.
Like millions of others, Dunn suffers from overactive bladder, or OAB, in which the bladder wall muscle inappropriately contracts, causing the urge to urinate. The urge can be so strong and sudden that there is not enough time to get to a bathroom...
"The problem is, the leakage is variable, not predictable," he tells WebMD. "You can have a small amount of leakage one time and a huge leakage another. That's what makes people nuts."
Your Strategy for Handling Incontinence
Stick with black. Loose-fitting, dark-colored workout clothes work best if you have incontinence -- especially if you need to wear an incontinence pad.
Watch the fluids. If you have an incontinence problem, don't have any caffeinated drinks beforehand (sodas, coffee, tea). The caffeine acts as a diuretic -- which leads to leaks. It’s still important to stay hydrated when exercising by drinking water.
Forget spicy foods. Spicy foods like Mexican or Chinese fare will irritate your bladder, and worse the type of incontinence called urge incontinence. High-acid foods like cranberry juice, orange juice, and other citrus beverages also cause irritation and trigger incontinence problems. Try to minimize those foods -- and maximize veggies and other mild, high-fiber foods.
Use a tampon. For women, a tampon puts pressure on the urethra which prevents leaks, explains Vani Dandolu, MD, MPH, a urogynecologist with Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia. "It mainly helps with stress incontinence, where leaks happen with an activity," she tells WebMD.
Kegels will help. Exercises to strengthen the muscle that controls your bladder -- Kegel exercises -- will make a big difference in your little problem. Kegel exercises help with mild to moderate stress incontinence, which commonly occurs after having children. To do Kegels, contract the muscles that you would use to stop the flow of urine. Hold the contraction for three seconds and then relax. Do this eight to 10 times, at least three times a week. If you don’t notice improvement after three to four months, check with your doctor to see if it would help to see a physical therapist to make sure you’re doing the exercises correctly.