Exercise & Your Intimate Health

Posted On Tuesday, 09 September 2014
Exercise & Your Intimate Health

Itching, chafing, burning, and sweating in places you might have forgotten you have...

We all know the importance of exercise for all aspects of your health. It can help you not only feel better and have more energy, increase circulation to your pelvic floor, and help prevent osteoporosis, but the endorphins can improve your mood even in rough times such as menopause.

At times though, it may seem that our body is rebelling against what should be a reward for your dedication to exercise. If women are not careful, these anti-rewards can sometimes rise up in the form of yeast infections, infected glands, bacterial vaginosis, and vaginitis (sometimes called crotchitis), among other uncomfortable things.

Different types of exercise can make women more prone to different kinds of symptoms. For instance, cycling, running, and swimming can have their own set of potential problems. I want to focus on the several things they may all have in common.

Moisture - The evil enemy of feminine intimate health.

One of the key mistakes many women make is not changing promptly out of their moist or damp clothing after exercising. I know we all get busy, but the moisture from sweat and your personal warmth are incubators for the growth of yeast and bacteria. Also, the sweat and moisture alone can cause a feeling of burning or itching, can irritate hair follicles (particularly after shaving) and cause redness.

Yeast and bacterial infections are usually the result of a vaginal imbalance. The presence of good bacteria helps keep the vaginal pH low (around 3.8-4.5) and prevents the growth of yeast and bad bacteria. Vaginal imbalance occurs when you lose the protection of the good bacteria.


Things you can do to minimize the risk of yeast and bacterial infections:

  • Change out of clothing and shower immediately after your workout.
  • If you can't shower reasonably soon, bring unscented cleansing wipes or a washcloth to use with warm water. Dry well before getting dressed again.
  • If possible, wear clothing that is loose and provides good airflow and circulation, specifically cotton clothing.
  • If wearing tight workout clothes (cycling shorts with padding), wear them without underwear.
  • Make sure you take the time to wipe and dry well after urinating, even if you are just racing back to your workout.
  • Don't "over clean" when you shower. Your body is designed to naturally clean itself down there, too.
  • Avoid harsh bath and shower products with fragrance and color added. Products can oftentimes upset your vaginal balance of good, protective bacteria.
  • Avoid douching.
  • Change pads or tampons every few hours and after exercise. Pads include both menstrual as well as incontinence pads.
  • Use oral or topical probiotics (good bacteria) to help maintain vaginal balance with a healthy pH.

Things you can do for exercise-related intimate symptoms:

  • Use a protective anti-chafing cream if you get irritation from fabric rubbing against you.
  • Don't shave right before sweating or swimming, especially if you're prone to red bumps and irritation.
  • If you notice burning or irritation, try soaking a washcloth in cool water and using it as a compress.
  • If you have an inflamed hair follicle or gland in your intimate areas, try using a warm compress.
  • If you have a condition such as interstitial cystitis (a painful bladder syndrome), don't push yourself if you're feeling discomfort. Alter your routine based on your symptoms.

As I mentioned before, different kinds of exercise have their own particular challenges. Fortunately there are many good resources you can find online with tips to address your feminine issues (such as saddle adjustments for cycling).

The most important thing is that you're exercising. You may have to deal with pesky side-effects from time to time, but hopefully not with proper prevention. The cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, neurological, psychological, gynecologic and other numerous benefits are well worth it. Just remember not to forget about your intimate health. You need to breathe and stay balanced down there, too!

Valerie A.King, MD

Trained in family medicine, as well as specialty training in complementary and alternative medicine, Dr. King has always had a particular interest and focus on women's health and is an expert in natural therapies and ingredients. Dr. King currently is the Chief Medical Officer for PrevaLeaf, a company which offers intimate feminine products for women. She received her BS in Psychology/English from Tulane University and an MD from the UTMB.

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