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Healthy habits to help stop bladder leaks

A senior couple at home doing yoga on the floor for bladder health

As you get older, the urge to urinate can start to feel overwhelming. Here’s how to regain control and avoid accidents.

Are you dealing with an overactive bladder? Maybe you leak a little urine when you play pickleball, lift heavy groceries or cough. Or maybe the urge to go strikes suddenly and you have to rush to make it to the toilet.  

A quarter to a third of U.S. adults have bladder control issues (also called urinary incontinence), according to the Urology Care Foundation.1 And while bladder leaks can affect anyone, they’re more common in older adults, especially women.2 

Bladder control issues can be inconvenient. They can also be embarrassing. But you don’t have to just accept them, says Jeffrey Lumerman, MD. He’s a New York–based urologist and chair of urology at Optum. It’s important to know that urinary incontinence is not a normal part of aging.1 

For starters, you should talk to your doctor. And don’t be shy about bringing it up. Your Optum doctor is your partner in care. They might start by asking you questions, such as how urine leakage affects your daily activities and your sleep. And they can suggest treatment options to help you get a handle on your leaks.

Bladder control problems have many causes and there are lots of treatments, points out Dr. Lumerman. “What may be effective for your friend may not be right for you.” 

Medication and devices can help. But you might be surprised that there are some lifestyle changes you can try at home right now. Just tweaking some daily habits might ease symptoms. Here are some at-home strategies that can help you stay drier.  

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Healthy habit #1: Stay hydrated 

If you always feel an urge to pee, you might decide to drink less water. That’s a mistake.  

It can set you up for another problem — dehydration — which can irritate your bladder and increase your urge to go.3  
You should drink enough water to stay hydrated throughout the day. The amount of water you need can vary depending on your health and activity level. Ask your doctor what’s right for you.  One quick way to check? Look at the color of your urine. If it’s dark yellow and has a strong smell, you’re probably not drinking enough fluids.3, 4 

If you want variety, consider swapping out plain water for flavored water. Eating fruits and vegetables with a high water content also adds to your fluid intake. Good options include cantaloupe, watermelon, lettuce and celery.4 

Healthy habit #2: Sip, don’t chug 

To avoid filling your bladder quickly, spread your drinking out over the course of the day, so that you need to urinate every few hours, recommends the National Institute on Aging.5 The goal is to avoid dehydration without taking in too much fluid in one sitting.6  
You should start sipping when you wake up in the morning. Keep a water bottle handy to remind yourself to drink. And if you wake up frequently at night to use the bathroom, aim to fit in your fluids at least an hour before going to sleep.6  

Healthy habit #3: Avoid trigger foods 

Some foods and drinks can irritate the bladder, which can make accidents more likely.7 Common culprits include:  

  • Caffeine 
  • Alcohol 
  • Spicy foods 
  • Artificial sweeteners 
  • Chocolate 
  • Carbonated drinks 
  • Acidic foods such as citrus  

Try limiting your intake of these foods, or consider cutting them out completely. See if your symptoms improve. You could even keep a bladder diary to help you track which ones you’ve cut back on and whether it helps.  

Looking for more helpful tips that can help you reach your health goals? Sign up for our Optum newsletter today. 

Healthy habit #4: Lose weight 

Are you carrying a few extra pounds? Extra body weight can put a strain on your bladder and the muscles that support it. That means even a small amount of urine can create a feeling of urgency.7, 8 If you can lose weight, you may feel more in control.  

Talk to your Optum doctor about coming up with a plan to eat healthier and exercise more.  

Healthy habit #5: Quit smoking 

Looking for another reason to give up smoking? This is it: People who smoke cigarettes are more likely to have bladder control problems.3 The habit can increase the urge to pee in several ways:9 

  • Cigarette smoking can cause irritation of the bladder. 
  • Smoking can cause coughing, which may lead to bladder leaks. 

It’s never too late to quit smoking. If you don’t feel like you can do it on your own, talk to your Optum doctor. They can recommend a smoking cessation program such as Quit for Life, which can give you the support you need for success. 

Healthy habit #6: Strengthen your muscles 

The muscles that help hold urine in the bladder are called pelvic floor muscles.9 As with other muscles in the body, they get stronger when you exercise them regularly. 

The exercise to focus on for bladder control is called a Kegel. “This involves contraction of the muscles that help hold in your urine,” says Dr. Lumerman. Next time you pee, try to stop the flow early. You should also feel the muscles of your vagina (for women), bladder or anus tighten and move up. Those are the muscles you want to work.10 

Healthy habit #7: Train your bladder 

With this method, you’ll pee at certain times of day, regardless of whether you truly have to go. For example, start by going to the bathroom every hour. If that goes well, add 15 minutes.  

The idea is to keep up this schedule until you can last for longer stretches between bathroom breaks. A good goal? Try to get to a point where you only have to use the bathroom every two to four hours.3 

These lifestyle habits can help bladder control problems. But it’s also important to keep the conversation going with your Optum doctor. There are other treatments — including medications and procedures — that your doctor might suggest. Your Optum care team is committed to working with you to find a solution. 


  1. Urology Care Foundation. What is urinary incontinence? Accessed December 18, 2023. 
  2. Cleveland Clinic. Urinary incontinence. Last reviewed October 23, 2020. Accessed December 18, 2023. 
  3. Mayo Clinic. Bladder control: Lifestyle strategies ease problems. Last updated September 20, 2023. Accessed December 18, 2023. 
  4. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. How much water do you need? Published June 23, 2022. Accessed December 18,, 2023.  
  5. National Institute on Aging. 5 ways to improve your bladder health. Accessed December 18, 2023. 
  6. Urology Care Foundation. Ask the experts: If I have incontinence, should I drink less water to stop leaking? Published 2021. Accessed December 18, 2023.  
  7. Mayo Clinic. Urinary incontinence. Last updated February 9, 2023. Accessed December 18, 2023. 
  8. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Urinary incontinence. Last updated February 22, 2021. Accessed December 18, 2023.  
  9. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Stress urinary incontinence. Last reviewed January 1, 2022. Accessed December 18, 2023.  
  10. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Kegel exercises — self-care. Last reviewed January 1, 2023. Accessed December 18, 2023. 

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