You know that we always encourage you to exercise. Keeping fit is excellent for your overall health, and it keeps you sexually tuned up as well. You have more energy; you have a better self-image; you probably have less pain in your joints and elsewhere; and you probably have better range of motion.
So, far be it from us to discourage any form of exercise. But, we have a teensy qualification for those of you who like to ride bicycles.
Take care of your bottom.
Turns out that the numbness and tingling you feel after a nice, long ride is an indication that the nerves and tissue on the pelvic floor may be affected, which means less sensation in the genital area. And lord knows we don’t want to compromise anything down there.
A few years ago, researchers found that policemen who rode bikes on the job had less sensation and some erectile dysfunction. Following the study, women cyclists began to suggest that this wasn’t just a guy thing.
Sure enough. A new study of female bike riders by researchers at Yale University confirms that women who ride at least 10 miles a week also lose sensation on their pelvic floor. This effect was particularly striking for women whose handlebars were lower than their seats and was even greater when riders lean forward onto the dropbars for a more aerodynamic effect. These positions put the most pressure on the perineum. “That part of the body was never meant to bear pressure,” Dr. Steven Schrader, lead researcher for the study on male riders. “Within a few minutes the blood oxygen levels go down by 80 percent.”
Granted, these gals were competitive bikers, so a maximal aerodynamic position isn’t likely to be your overriding concern, but if you tend to lean forward as you ride, or if you feel numbness, pain, or tingling in your pelvic floor, you should raise your handlebars to a more upright, granny-style position. This helps to distribute pressure to the anatomical part that’s meant to take it—your sit-bones.
And if you really, really like to ride, you could consider a no-nose bike saddle. A list of manufacturers and a cyclist’s discussion of the pros and cons are here.
The take-away? By all means continue with your regimen, and more power to you. With a few minor adjustments, you should be on the road and more comfortable than ever.
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.