Just one more reason to get your sweat on, according to new research

By Julia Malacoff
Updated: October 07, 2016
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Exercise has all kinds of amazing benefits, from reducing your risk of heart disease to helping you cope with stress and anxiety. Now, you can add another major plus to that list: People who exercise are more protected from bacterial infections than those who don't, says a new study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. And yes, this includes one of the most obnoxious bacterial infections known to womankind: urinary tract infections. Since more than 50 percent of women will have a UTI at some point in their lives, this is a pretty big deal. (Have you heard about these surprising things that can cause UTIs.)And if you've ever had one, you know how crazy-uncomfortable and painful it can be. (Not sure if you have a UTI or STI? Hospitals actually misdiagnose these 50 percent of the time. Eek!)

Since studies have already shown that moderate exercise can help protect you from viruses, researchers explained that they wanted to find out if working out offers any protection against bacterial infections as well. The study followed a group of 19,000 people for a year, taking note of how many times they filled prescriptions for antibiotics. What the researchers found was that compared to those who didn't exercise at all, people who got their sweat on were less likely to fill an antibiotic Rx, especially the kind used to treat UTIs. Interestingly, the biggest benefits were seen by those who participated in low to moderate levels of exercise, and women saw bigger benefits than men in terms of bacterial infections overall. The study suggests that just four hours a week of low-intensity activity, like walking or riding a bike can lower your risk, which is extremely doable. Score.

The researchers didn't offer answers in this study as to why this link exists, but Melissa Goist, M.D., an ob-gyn at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, says it may have something to do with all that water you guzzle after a sweaty HIIT class. "I would speculate that the reason for less UTIs in women who exercise is due to the increased hydration," she says. "Hydrating more helps to flush the kidneys and bladder helping to avoid bacteria from attaching to the walls of the bladder." Goist adds that since it's not very comfortable to exercise with a full bladder (so true!), women who exercise more may pee more often, thus lowering their risk for getting the dreaded UTI. (Holding urine in your bladder for a prolonged period of time is a big no-no, Goist says.)

She also notes that while this study shows that exercise can help lower your risk for infection, "exercise that causes excessive sweating can create increased chances of vaginal irritation and yeast infections if appropriate hygiene is not performed." That means, change your clothes, shower ASAP, and wear loose clothing afterward to increase airflow to your nether-regions, she says. (So, just asking for a friend, but are those post-workout showers always necessary?)

While more research is needed to figure out the exact reason exercise protects you from UTIs and other bacterial infections, it's definitely a welcome discovery for both you and your lady parts.


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