April 21, 2023
No man wants to acknowledge the physical challenges associated with the aging process, particularly when they may include the need to urinate in the middle of the night, erectile dysfunction, dribbling after urination or constipation. Not known for their propensity to seek medical care, let alone share such personal topics, men often just accept these ailments, sacrificing their quality of life, comfort and social confidence.
Sometimes these conditions are the products of aging, but they also can result from prostate surgery, heart disease or diabetes, so, this is not just an "old man's" dilemma. Regardless, the common denominator is the weakening of the pelvic floor muscles that support a man's bladder, prostate and rectum, and that commonality is where men can find a natural treatment. Not surprisingly, that path starts with women.
In the late 1940s, gynecologist Arnold Henry Kegel developed exercises that involve the squeezing of pelvic floor muscles. The method is acknowledged as a first-line, non-surgical, treatment for pelvic health concerns. Kegel exercises are a staple among women looking to control their bladder and bowels, and though they are commonly associated with women, there are important benefits that can contribute to a man's quality of life.
What's a Kegel exercise? If you're a gym-goer you may have observed women lying on the floor and thrusting the lower halves of their bodies into the air. What you're witnessing is an effort to strengthen their pelvic floor muscles, often to counter the effects of aging, childbirth or surgery. The process centers on isolating and then contracting and relaxing the muscles. Key to their effectiveness is avoiding the tendency to work one's stomach, thighs or butt, thinking that you are hitting the pelvic floor.
So, what about men? The good news is that medical experts also recommend Kegel exercises for men. And, get this, Kegels also can improve your sex life! If there were ever a woman's practice that men should adopt, this is the one.
The Cleveland Clinic says that Kegel exercises have the potential to help men improve urinary or fecal incontinence, manage prostate pain and increase sexual pleasure. They also can help men in advance of prostate surgery. The Clinic suggests that if you make Kegel exercises a permanent part of your exercise routine, you could notice benefits in upwards of six weeks.
The Mayo Clinic agrees that Kegel exercises can strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which can help bladder control and possibly improve sexual performance. They note that Kegels do not require a gym setting and can be done just about anytime or anywhere.
The team at Harvard Medical School offers some practical tips on working your pelvic muscles. That starts with locating the right muscles because more than one-third of men and women who attempt Kegels work the wrong muscles. To find the right ones, pretend that you are trying to avoid passing gas or, while urinating, trying to stop your urine stream. Doing this, the experts say, will help you find the right muscles with greater sensation in the back of the pelvic area than in the front. In short, it's about contracting and relaxing your muscles. Once you've got the feel, they recommend that you run through a cycle of contractions for 3 to 5 seconds followed by relaxation for 3 to 5 seconds, repeating this cycle 10 times.
According to University of Michigan Health, men who are more experienced with Kegels can extend their squeezes for 8 to 10 seconds each and do 8 to 10 at a time, as much as 30 times a day. And with this experience comes the ability to do them while sitting, standing or even waiting in line.
And, if you're not of an age to be concerned about the need to pee at 3 a.m., take note that the National Association For Continence indicates that Kegels specifically help strengthen the bulbocavernous muscle, which is responsible for erections, contractions during orgasm and ejaculation. Enough said.
So, whether you are recovering from prostate surgery, need help in the bedroom or are tired of getting up at night, Kegels offer an alternative to medication.
Confronting very personal medical problems with a social overlay is not typically a man's strong suit. We don't like to talk about them, hope they just go away, and may even find clumsy workarounds. On the other hand, women will share intimate details with their friends, search out medical care and go to lengths to confront their challenges.
Men need to take the hint, particularly when it comes to topics that may be uncomfortable. Contemporary views on masculinity are evolving rapidly. For example, I’ve written about the growing willingness of men, whether they be politicians or professional football players to be out front on mental health.
Our attitudes should be no different when it comes to our pelvic floors. It takes courage to speak up, and even more courage to do your pelvic exercises at the gym. No matter how you do it or where you do it, take the lead of women. There are tons of videos online that demonstrate all the additional ways you can work these muscles. Kegels are another tool in your healthy lifestyle tool kit. Use them.
Louis Bezich, senior vice president and chief administrative officer at Cooper University Health Care, is author of "Crack The Code: 10 Proven Secrets that Motivate Healthy Behavior and Inspire Fulfillment in Men Over 50." Read more from Louis on his website.