If you've never had a UTI, count yourself lucky. Over half of women will get a urinary tract infection (UTI) at some point during their lives. If you're one of the unlucky majority, you'll incur the wrath of your bladder and urethra in the form of pelvic pain, needing to pee (even though you just went), and burning urination. And, sadly, it is not uncommon to deal with recurrent UTIs that just keep cropping up, no matter what you do. But there's some good news, finally: New research suggests that exercise, even moderate activity like walking or going for a leisurely bike ride, might be helpful for preventing bacterial infections in general — but especially for steering clear of UTIs. For the study, published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise last month, researchers from Aalborg University analyzed surveys taken by 18,874 people in Denmark between 2007 and 2010. The participants ranked their exercise habits from 1 ("regular hard physical training and competitive sports several times per week") to 4 ("reading, watching television, or other sedentary behaviors"). Based on these ratings, the researchers classified participants into high, low, and moderate physical activity groups, plus a sedentary group.
After a year, the study's authors checked pharmacy records to determine which of the participants had gotten antibiotic prescriptions, and found that 22% of the men and 34% of the women had done so. But those who exercised, even those in the "low" category who engaged in activities like walking, biking, or gardening for four hours a week or more, were 10% less likely to need antibiotics than completely sedentary people. Exercise was most beneficial for women, and it especially seemed to prevent UTIs. For example, light exercisers were 21% less likely than sedentary people to get UTI medications, and moderate exercisers were 32% less likely. So, when you walk to work, you could literally be taking steps toward avoiding some major discomfort down the line.