Cystitis, Interstitial Cystitis, Overactive Bladder/Incontinence, Protocols

The Best Ways to Exercise for (Bladder) Health

Exercise is generally considered to be health promoting, but not all forms of exercise might be ideal for someone with bladder issues.

Last time, I talked about why jogging may not be so ideal for bladder health. This week I’d like to look at some options that I consider to be safe and beneficial.

The Benefits of Exercise on (Bladder) Health

Health and fitness are not necessarily the same – and therefore, by exercising we do not necessarily become healthy.

We could define health as just the absence of disease. Or we could say it is a state of vitality, where one is capable of physically living up to one’s full potential. Exercise could certainly play a role in achieving this state.

Fitness is a state, in which one is physically able to meet challenges that go beyond a resting state.

To be beneficial to health, exercise could therefore be defined in the following way:

‘A specific activity that stimulates a positive physiological adaptation that serves to enhance fitness and health and does not undermine the latter in the process of enhancing the former.’ [1]

For those who are chronically ill, everyday life can be challenging. While exercise may or may not improve one’s current state of health, a certain level of fitness may well help us deal with the challenges life throws at us.

So what are some of the benefits of exercise that could specifically help those with bladder issues?

  • Changes of the gut microbiome have been implicated in many chronic disease states, including interstitial cystitis. An imbalance of microbes in the gut or bladder could also predispose us to urinary tract infections. Exercise seems to shift the gut microbiota to a more favourable state and may help improve gut immune function [2, 3, 4].
  • Problems with the spine may affect bladder health because of nerve impingement. Resistance training that strengthens the muscles of the lumbar spine may help reduce problems in that area [5].
  • Constipation could exacerbate bladder issues by putting pressure on the bladder. Strength-training exercise may speed up gastrointestinal transit time [6].
  • An excess of glucose (blood sugar) in the blood could lead to the sugar being excreted through urine, potentially feeding urinary pathogens. Strength training may increase glucose uptake by the body [7].
  • Pelvic floor muscle training may be beneficial for urinary incontinence [8] – other strength-training such as pilates [9] may also increase pelvic floor strength.
  • Exercise may improve physical performance and psychological outlook for people with disabilities or chronic health conditions [10].
  • Other benefits of exercise include: better brain function [11], reduced risk of numerous chronic diseases, preservation of both physical and mental health and function, and longevity [12].


Types of Exercise That May Not Be Ideal for Bladder Health

Anyone who has chronic bladder problems would probably fare better not engaging in forms of exercise that put a lot of strain on the pelvic floor or that could lead to neuropathy. I explained reasons for this in my last post.

Therefore, anything that puts a lot of impact on the bladder such as running/jogging, rebounding, sprinting, Zumba, vibro plate etc. may not be so good if you have an inflamed bladder.

I would also say that any form of exercise leading to excessive sweating in the crotch area may not be ideal for people with chronic infections, as damp warmth is an ideal breeding ground for bacteria (excess sweating used to kick off my own UTIs in the past and I’m still prone to some minor issues if I sit for prolonged periods of time).

Coldness is also known to be a trigger for many women, although I have not found any proper explanations as to why this is the case. Therefore, swimming is probably also not ideal. If you do swim, make sure to change into something dry asap when getting out the water!

I do cycle a lot now but was not able to do so when I was still ill. Cycling can cause a lot of friction in the urogenital area, as well as sweating and is therefore probably best avoided for someone with issues.

Excessive cardio also triggers the stress response and stress can be a trigger for IC.

So let’s have a look at forms of exercise that are probably more beneficial.

Gentle Exercise

Gentle exercise does not have much impact on the bladder and has the additional benefit of helping relaxation and stress management.

These are some options:

  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi
  • Pilates
  • Walking

These forms of exercise also have the benefit that even people who are quite fatigued or have low fitness to start with can get started straight away.

I personally find walking in nature one of the best stress relievers!

Strength Training

My preferred form of exercise is strength training and I have seen the most beneficial effect on my own health from doing HIT resistance training.

What is HIT?

HIT is a very short, slow and intense form of resistance training that typically only lasts 15-20 minutes.

It uses the deeper muscle fibres, that aren’t usually recruited under normal circumstances. Goal is, to completely fatigue all muscle fibres so that beneficial adaptations occur.

These adaptations occur during the recovery time, which can last 7-14 days.

I use a set of 5 machines that cover a wide range of muscle groups (called ‘The Big 5’).

Ideally, machines that ‘move with the muscle’ such as Nautilus are used. These, combined with the very slow nature of the exercises means that they are safe for muscles and joints.

We don’t want to put unnecessary strain on the pelvic region, which is why I think these exercises are good.

Also, most of the beneficial effects mentioned above can be produced by this form of exercise – and it only takes 15 minutes per week!!

The downside is that it burns (lactic acid burn) and therefore takes a bit of willpower to complete.

Other resistance training (on safe machines) is probably also beneficial, so if the burn of these exercises puts you off, you could do a lighter routine and still reap some of the benefits.

You can learn about the Big 5 routine here and here or read the brilliant book ‘Body By Science’ by Doug McGuff.

What form of exercise do you enjoy? How has it impacted your bladder health? Let me know in the comments!

Pin it for later:


  1. McGuff, D. and Little, J. Body By Science (London: McGraw-Hill, 2009), p. 3
  2. Cook, MD et al Exercise and gut immune function: evidence of alterations in colon immune cell homeostasis and microbiome characteristics with exercise training. Immunology and Cell Biology [02 Dec 2015, 94(2):158-163]
  3. Denou, E. et al High-intensity exercise training increases the diversity and metabolic capacity of the mouse distal gut microbiota during diet-induced obesity Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2016 Jun 1; 310(11): E982–E993.
  4. Barton W, Penney NC, Cronin O, et al The microbiome of professional athletes differs from that of more sedentary subjects in composition and particularly at the functional metabolic level Gut Published Online First: 30 March 2017. doi: 10.1136/gutjnl-2016-313627
  5. McGuff, D. and Little, J. Body By Science (London: McGraw-Hill, 2009), p. 108
  6. Ibid, 101
  7. Ibid, 102
  8. Hay-Smith E. et al Comparisons of approaches to pelvic floor muscle training for urinary incontinence in women. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011 Dec 7;(12):CD009508
  9. Culligan, P. et al A randomized clinical trial comparing pelvic floor muscle training to a Pilates exercise program for improving pelvic muscle strength Int Urogynecol J (2010) 21: 401.
  10. Malone, L. et al Perceived benefits and barriers to exercise among persons with physical disabilities or chronic health conditions within action or maintenance stages of exercise Disability and Health Journal October 2012 Volume 5, Issue 4, Pages 254–260
  11. Lin, T. Exercise Benefits Brain Function: The Monoamine Connection Sci. 2013, 3(1), 39-53;
  12. Blair, S. et al Healthy Hearts—and the Universal Benefits of Being Physically Active: Physical Activity and Health Annals of Epidemiology April 2009 Volume 19, Issue 4, Pages 253–256


  • Reply


    March 25, 2018

    I’ve definitely seen some improvement with pelvic floor issues since beginning a regular yoga practice!

    • Reply


      April 9, 2018

      I’m glad to hear it!

  • Reply


    April 15, 2018

    I have been suffering from pelvic floor problems for more than 10 years. I’ve been to 5 OB/GYNs, 3 Urologists and 3 Internists. I’ve been on several prescription drugs, including Gabapentin, Cymbalta, Effexor, Myrbetriq, Detrol LA. I’ve also used the services of specialty physical therapists, acupuncturists and psychotherapists. I exercise daily (walking) and meditate to reduce the accompanying anxiety. I

    My symptoms include spasms, bloating, gas, burning sensation in the urethra, constipation and sometimes GERD. Besides the spasms, the worst and most common symptoms are the feeling of bladder fullness and the inability to completely empty my bladder. I almost always feel like I have to pee immediately after I urinate. I really dread having to use the bathroom! I also have a terrible time sitting or laying down. The spasms and bladder pressure increase dramatically when sitting or laying down. Sleep is very difficult. The only “treatment” that works consistently is walking, though no medical professional has ever been able to provide an explanation.

    My symptoms recently flared again following a bladder infection. It’s been 6 weeks and I haven’t been able to get the symptoms under control. I’m seeing a new set of doctors (internist, OB/GYN, & psychotherapist) and hope to finally obtain a concrete diagnosis. Meanwhile, your website provides some potential leads, especially those that discuss the potential link with digestive problems.

    Thanks for the information. It’s helpful to know that I’m not alone.

    • Reply


      April 15, 2018

      Dear Sue, so sorry to hear you’re struggling. I hope you find some information here that helps you. I’d definitely investigate the link to digestion – as Hippocrates already said: ‘All disease begins in the gut’.

  • Reply


    May 21, 2018

    Dear Sue,
    I feel sorry that you have such bladder issues. I was wondering if you have ever seen a neurourologist. My bladder problem are also partly caused by neurological problems. Also, these neurological issues can lead to digestive problems. My neurourologist recommended the interstim to me, but I‘m not quite ready for it. But I have heard from many people that it was helpful for them (there is a fb group about interstim). Maybe something to consider. I hope this helps. All the best!

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