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About 25 million Americans suffer from some form of urinary incontinence. Up to 80% of them are women. Medications targeting incontinence cause side effects like dry mouth, constipation, heartburn, blurred vision, impaired memory, and confusion. Now researchers from the University of California San Francisco (UCFS) find that yoga classes can reduce episodes of urinary incontinence by up to 70%.
Women suffer urinary incontinence more frequently as they age. But even younger women are affected. In fact, almost 7% of young women between the ages of 20 to 39 have significant problems.
The two most common types of urinary incontinence are stress incontinence and urgency incontinence.
Stress incontinence occurs when a small amount of urine leaks out after lifting a heavy weight, strenuous exercise, or sneezing, coughing, or laughing. This is the most common type affecting women. It's usually caused when the muscles of the pelvic floor become weak or the surrounding tissues have been torn. This allows the urethra to move around without sufficient support.
Urgency incontinence is also called overactive bladder. It happens when the body signals an immediate need to release urine without warning.
In the current study published in Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery, the UCSF researchers discovered that a yoga training program, designed to improve pelvic health, can help women gain more control over their urination and avoid accidental leakage.
They conducted a randomized pilot trial of 19 women aged 40 years and older who suffered with daily incontinence. The participants had stress, urgency, or mixed-type incontinence. About half the women participated in a 6-week yoga therapy program consisting of twice weekly group classes and once weekly home practice. The other half served as the control group.
After six weeks, the women in the yoga program reported a 70% overall reduction in the frequency of their leakage. The control group reported only a 13% improvement.
Most of the improvement was reported among women with stress incontinence. The yoga therapy group reported a 71% decrease in the frequency of stress incontinence episodes. That compared to a 25% increase in episodes for the control group.
The researchers believe yoga improves urinary incontinence in multiple ways. For one thing, incontinence is often associated with anxiety and depression. Yoga's emphasis on mindful meditation and relaxation can improve those conditions. St. John's wort also may lessen urinary incontinence in depressed patients.
In addition, regular yoga practice may also help strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor. That can support the bladder and protect against incontinence.
The researchers specifically developed a yoga program that was safe for older women who might have minor mobility limitations. They noted that not all types of yoga may help with urinary incontinence.
Because it helps with mindful awareness, increasing relaxation and relieving anxiety and stress, yoga has also been shown to be effective for many other health conditions such as metabolic syndrome and relieving pain.