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Dear Dr. Vanessa,
I went to the gynecologist the other day and she said she could tell (during the internal examination) that I hadn't been doing my kegels (I had a kid a few years back). Is this really true? Also, if I do start doing kegels, is it something I'll need to do every day for the rest of my life, or is it something that you can do for a while to "get back in shape" and then stop doing?
Yes, your gynecologist would be able to tell if your pelvic floor muscles are weak. There are several ways we can test the strength of a woman's pelvic floor muscles. Your doctor may have placed fingers in your vagina and then asked you to squeeze down on them. Or she may have asked you to cough or bear down as she examined the outside of your vagina (your vulva), and noticed urine leakage.
The good news is that Kegel exercises are effective. They strengthen the pelvic floor muscles that support the rectum, vagina, and bladder. As your doctor probably told you, you know you are exercising the right muscles if you can stop your urine stream in the middle of urinating. Once you practice enough when urinating, then you should switch to doing Kegels several times during the day when you are not urinating. It is recommended that you contract your pelvic floor muscles for a count of 10, for five to 10 times, several times a day. If you haven't done them in a while, it may be hard to hold for 10 seconds, but with practice, you'll be able to work up to holding them for that long. Kegels are important because they can prevent or alleviate stress urinary incontinence - urine leakage from exercising, coughing, sneezing, or bearing down.
When Kegel exercises are done correctly, the pelvic floor muscles can stay strong for a long time. One small study showed that five years after starting Kegels for stress urinary incontinence, 75 percent of women had no urine leakage. Many of these women were either no longer doing Kegels or had dropped down to doing them once a week. So, doing your Kegels can really pay off!
Kegels are also suggested to women and men as a way to improve orgasm - a whole other added benefit!
Best wishes for your good sexual health,
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Dr. Vanessa Cullins is a board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist and vice president for medical affairs at Planned Parenthood® Federation of America. To ask her your own question, click here.