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Incontinence in older women linked to sitting down for too long

The only accurate sedentary behaviour information in a study of around 5,500 people was recorded in 459 women aged 60 and over, a professor said.

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Woman sits at a desk

There is a direct link between urinary incontinence in older women and sitting down too long, a study has found.

Researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) worked in partnership with Professor Javier Jerez-Roig at the University of Vic (Central University of Catalonia) to analyse data from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

It randomly sampled around 5,500 people but Professor Joanne Booth said the only accurate sedentary behaviour information was recorded in 459 women aged 60 and over.

Subjects wore a professional physical activity monitor 24 hours a day for five days, with the experts now urging women to sit less and follow simple techniques to fix bladder problems.

Prof Booth, lead author of the research paper, said: “We know that physical activity can help bladder problems but this is the first time we have looked at the link between sedentary behaviour and incontinence in a big cohort.

“We found that women who had urgency incontinence sat for significantly longer periods than the women with no incontinence – about 19% longer than the rest – so there is a clear link to sitting and having urgency urinary incontinence.

“Irrespective of how old you are or how heavy you are – if you sit for about a fifth longer than an average of 18 minutes you are more likely to have an overactive bladder.”

She added: “Now that we know there is a direct link with urgency incontinence and sitting too long, we need to look for additional mechanisms for dealing with it.

“The solution is not going to be simply telling women to do pelvic floor muscle exercises but also that moving more and reducing time spent sitting may help them, particularly with urgency incontinence.

“We know you get more urgency as you get older and it may be that if you are not as sedentary that might improve.

“Certainly we know that sitting for a long time isn’t going to help the situation.”

Glasgow Caledonian University
Glasgow Caledonian University researchers worked in partnership with Professor Javier Jerez-Roig at the University of Vic (Peter Devlin/GCU)

Although considered by many as a taboo subject, urinary incontinence is very common, affecting one in three adult women and one in six adult men.

Prof Booth said women who sit for longer periods are “more likely to suffer from urgency incontinence and wear incontinence pads”.

She said: “More women are buying incontinence pads than ever before.

“Supermarket shelves are crammed with them. This never used to happen.

“All the advertising around incontinence pads and pants on our TV screens is normalising the wearing of them as a solution to incontinence.

“The messages that are being put out is that you can be sexy even if you’re wearing a pad but it’s not normal to leak – it is common but not normal and leaking is certainly not part of normal ageing so women should seek treatment, not just accept it.”

She added: “Three-quarters of women can be helped or cured by very simple techniques like bladder training or pelvic floor muscle exercises, moving more and changing fluid intake.

“A lot of this information is available online and through the NHS.

“Pads should only be the last resort if they haven’t managed to improve through these methods.”

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