What Happens If You Hold Your Pee In For Too Long
Excessive Sitting Can Harm Your Urinary Tract, a New Study Finds
If you spend long hours sitting at a desk or you get little to no exercise, your urinary tract could suffer the consequences.
By Stacey Colino
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March 21, 2019
It’s no secret that prolonged sitting can take a toll on your heart health, as well as your waistline and other aspects of your well-being. Now it appears that excessive sitting won’t do your urinary tract any favors, either.
A new study, published online today in BJU International, evaluated 69,795 healthy middle-aged men over the course of two and a half years and tracked the time they spent sitting, their physical activity, and whether they had lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS): As it happens, those who spent five or more hours per day sitting, as well as those who had low physical activity levels in general, were more likely to develop LUTS (such as incomplete emptying, urinary frequency or urgency, a weak urinary stream, or having to get up to urinate at night) over time, despite being free of these symptoms when the study began.
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Sitting 5+ Hours a Day May Trigger Urinary Urgency and Other Symptoms
The study included only men, so the findings don’t apply exactly to women, since women have different urinary tract anatomy (no prostate and a much shorter urethra) than men do. But “there is no reason to think that any deleterious effects of physical inactivity and/or prolonged sitting would be limited to males,” says Linda Brubaker, MD, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the University of California in San Diego.
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What the Link May Mean for Women and Urinary Tract Infection Risks
After all, lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS) are common among women for a variety of reasons, usually related to nerve, muscle, and connective tissue function. “We’re finding that movement is important for musculoskeletal health, nerve health, and the way the muscles and connective tissues contract to empty the bladder,” says Jill Maura Rabin, MD, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Hofra Northwell School of Medicine in New Hyde Park, New York.
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Other Risk Factors for Urinary Tract Infection Problems and Symptoms
Especially as women get older, they experience some thinning of the tissues in the vagina and bladder, and “when you lose estrogen with menopause, the nerves don’t function as well and the muscles don’t contract as well,” Dr. Rabin explains. All these changes can cause urinary leakage or difficulty emptying the bladder fully. What’s more, “the easiest way to get a urinary tract infection is to allow the bladder to have high residual urine,” she adds. “It’s better to empty the bladder completely to let it fill completely.”
Being sedentary can magnify these risks because when you sit still, blood doesn’t circulate as efficiently to the tissues, which may affect nerve and muscle function around the bladder. Plus, prolonged sitting is “associated with reduced core strength and likely less [beneficial] work for the pelvic floor muscles that are used more when someone is standing,” Dr. Brubaker notes.
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If you have lower urinary tract symptoms, your best bet is to see a doctor to find out why. Various medications or health conditions — including pelvic organ prolapse, and neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis (MS) and Parkinson’s disease — could be to blame, in which case you’d want to treat the cause directly.
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How to Lower Your Chances of Developing Lower Urinary Tract Symptoms
While lower urinary tract symptoms are fairly common, “not everybody gets these issues,” says Rabin, the coauthor ofMind Over Bladder. To reduce your risk of developing LUTS, don’t smoke. Stick with a healthy diet, and maintain an ideal body weight (to avoid putting excess pressure on your bladder), Rabin advises. Stay well hydrated to keep fluids flushing through your body regularly —“you want your urine to be light yellow to clear,” Rabin notes.
RELATED: 4 Simple Ways to Stay Hydrated
And move as often as possible by exercising regularly and avoiding sitting for long stretches. “Get a standing desk, if possible, and use it,” Brubaker advises. When you’re on the phone, walk and talk when you can. At the very least, if you have a job that requires sitting, stand up and walk or move around for five minutes every hour.
If you’ve had children or you’ve been told that you’re at risk for pelvic organ prolapse, do Kegel exercises regularly to maximize the strength of your pelvic floor. Ultimately, the healthier your genitourinary tissues are, Rabin says, the lower your risk of developing urinary tract infections, pelvic organ prolapse, and urine leakage.
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