If you have bladder-control problems, which is common for those with diabetes, cutting back on coffee or tea can help keep you out of the bathroom. But did you know that exercise and weight loss might also do the trick. Here, unexpected ways to maintain control:
Experiment with your diet. The most surprising tip of all? Acidic foods like citrus fruits and tomatoes, spicy foods, carbonated beverages, corn syrup and even artificial sweeteners can give you the urge to go. “These foods irritate the bladder,” says Tomas L. Griebling, MD, MPH, a spokesperson for the American Urological Association and vice-chair of urology at the University of Kansas School of Medicine in Kansas City.
If you suspect that one of these foods or drinks may be a problem, eliminate it for a week. Then, gradually return it. You may need to cut back only a few of these items.
Check your prescriptions. Some medications can worsen bladder woes. Not surprisingly, the worst offenders are high blood pressure medications called diuretics, which boost urine production. Other drugs that may cause problems include calcium-channel blockers, antidepressants, muscle relaxants, sedatives and antihistamines.
If you’re taking any of these medications, talk with your healthcare provider. It's possible to get the medicine you need and stay dry. “With diuretics, for instance, you may be able to divide up the dose during the day so you’re not producing so much urine at once,” says Courtenay Moore, MD, a urologist at the Cleveland Clinic.
Treat chronic cough. If you have stress incontinence, you may be unable to stay dry when you cough. That’s especially challenging if you suffer from allergies or sinus infections or are a heavy smoker—all of which can lead to repeated bouts of coughing. If you’re a smoker, kick the habit; if you suffer from sinus problems, talk with your healthcare provider about the best ways to stifle your cough.
Slim down. Overweight and obese women who lost about 10% of their body weight experienced significantly fewer episodes of incontinence after they slimmed down, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers found the benefit was greatest for women with stress incontinence, in which you leak urine whenever you sneeze, cough, laugh, exercise or lift something heavy. “Weight loss reduces pressure in the abdomen and pelvis, which can cause leaks,” explains Dr. Griebling.
Ease constipation. You might not realize it, but hard, compacted stools can put pressure on your bladder. And if you’re constantly straining during bowel movements, you may weaken the muscles that support your bladder and urethra. Straining can also irritate the nerves that control the bladder, colon and rectum, resulting in an urge to urinate. “Relieving constipation will improve your bladder problems,” says Dr. Griebling. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids, and fill your plate with fiber-rich foods like veggies, fruits and legumes.
Get moving. If you have stress incontinence, you may avoid exercise for fear that you’ll leak. But being active is important for maintaining a healthy weight and bladder health, says Dr. Moore. Core workouts like Pilates and yoga may even strengthen the pelvic muscles that help with bladder control, she notes. If you find that certain exercises cause you to leak, try low-impact activities such as swimming, walking and biking.