This sling or hammock of muscle stretches from the pubic bone to the coccyx (tailbone), forming the floor of the pelvic area and supporting the bladder, rectum and (in women) the vagina and uterus.

When this muscle gets too slack and flabby as you get older or after childbirth, your pelvic organs can sag (prolapse) and you might experience problems such as stress incontinence (leaking of urine if you laugh or cough — see Bladder) and constipation. If the vagina becomes loose and weak it can lead to less sensation during sexual intercourse, and it may allow the bladder to sagdownwards, creating an increased risk of urinary infection.

Whatever age you are, you can tone up your pelvic floor muscles with simple exercises, sometimes called Kegel exercises, which you can do anywhere — in the office, on the phone, in a movie, waiting for a bus — wherever. No one will notice a thing. First get the feeling of which muscles they are, by concentrating on trying to stop the flow intermittently when urinating. You may not be able to do this completely, but the aim at this stage is just to feel the pelvic floor muscles working.

Once you can identify the muscles, you’re ready to start exercising. Tighten up the whole pelvic floor and hold for around three seconds, then relax for three seconds. Repeat five or six times. You should try and do at least 10 sets of these exercises a day — preferably more like 20. But don’t do too much too fast — work up to it gradually.

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