Wed 29, May 2019

Lady and man spinning

There are many advantages to being a healthy weight; apart from looking and feeling better, we’re less likely to suffer from chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.

But a lesser known benefit of weight loss is that it lowers our risk of urinary incontinence.

Research shows that losing just five to 10 per cent of body weight reduces the incidence of urinary incontinence by around 70 percent1.  In fact, weight loss is a frequent and effective treatment for urinary incontinence 2.

Why so?  Stress incontinence (leakage when you cough, sneeze, run, lift weights etc.) essentially comes down to physics – there is more force pushing down on the urinary sphincter (the ring of muscle we relax to urinate) than its closure force can handle.

Critical for helping keep our urinary sphincter shut are our pelvic floor muscles, the trampoline-like muscles stretching from the tail bone to the public bone and between both sitting bones. These important muscles are also responsible for holding up the pelvic organs and preventing pelvic organ prolapse.

If our body has to constantly carry extra weight, the pelvic floor muscles become strained and stretched, eventually weakening over time, which reduces their capacity to function. Not only is incontinence a higher risk in people who are overweight, so too is pelvic organ prolapse.

The Continence Foundation of Australia’s CEO Rowan Cockerell said many cases of incontinence were the result of poor lifestyle choices.

“While certain medical conditions predispose some individuals to incontinence, healthy eating and regular exercise are key, not just for weight loss, but for good bladder and bowel control.

“There are 4.8 million Australians aged 15 and over affected by some form of incontinence – that’s one in four adults - and the majority of cases are preventable and treatable,” Cockerell said.

While incontinence can affect people of any age, women aged between 25 and 55 and men aged 50-plus are two groups at high risk of becoming incontinent.

The Continence Foundation of Australia encourages people to follow these five steps for good bladder and bowel health.

1. Eat a well-balanced diet that includes at least 30g of fibre daily.

A well-balanced diet with adequate fibre will help achieve a healthier weight and reduce the likelihood of constipation, which is often associated with urinary incontinence.This is because straining on the toilet can, like excess weight, stretch and weaken the pelvic floor muscles. 

2. Drink adequate fluids, limiting caffeine and fizzy drinks.

Drink to satisfy your thirst, not to meet an arbitrary volume; your urine should be straw-coloured. Avoid excess alcohol, which is diuretic, and too many caffeine-based or fizzy drinks, which can irritate the bladder, causing it to empty before it’s full.

3. Exercise regularly.

Aim for about 30 minutes each day. If you’re not the sporty type, walking is perfect.

4. Do your pelvic floor muscle training daily.

Strengthen and train your pelvic floor muscles. If you’re not clear about how to do your pelvic floor exercises, go to

5. Practise good toilet habits

Empty your bowel when you get an urge, and avoid holding on, which can lead to constipation. Sit leaning forward with your knees higher than your hips; this position is optimum because it straightens out the colon.

The National Continence Helpline (1800 33 00 66) is a free and confidential service staffed by continence nurse advisors who provide advice, referrals and resources to consumers and health professionals. For more information go to

The Continence Foundation of Australia is the national organisation working to improve the quality of life of all Australians affected by incontinence.


  1. Wing RR et al. Improving urinary incontinence in overweight and obese women through modest weight loss. Obstet Gynecol 2010 Aug (2 Pt 1): 284-92
  2. Subak ll et al. Weight Loss to Treat Urinary Incontinence in Overweight and Obese Women. N Engl J Med 2009; 360:481-490