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What Should I Know About Vaginal Health and Exercising?

If You Want to Prevent Infection, Here's How to Keep Your Vagina Healthy When Working Out

No matter where you're working out, you're probably sweating — a lot! Have you thought about what that means for your vagina? Probably not, but board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist Jodie Horton, MD believes you should!

Exercising is one of the best things you can do for your body and mind, but what can exercise do to your vagina? "There's a lot of sweating and friction that can wreak havoc down there," Dr. Horton said, especially if you wear skin-tight leggings. After your workout, it's important to freshen up, and you need to make sure to pay extra attention to your vagina in order to prevent uncomfortable or painful infections like yeast infections or urinary tract infections (UTIs).

Dr. Horton explained that we have bacteria all over our body to protect us against bad bacteria that want to enter the body to cause disease. These good bacteria act like guards to fight the harmful bacteria that can make us sick. This happens in the vagina, too. "Normal vaginal flora is made up mainly of Lactobacillus species [a good bacteria], which promotes a healthy vaginal environment. Lactobacilli produce hydrogen peroxide that makes the vaginal pH acidic between 3.8 and 4.5," she said. This acidic environment makes it difficult for harmful bacteria and yeast to grow and cause common infections like bacterial vaginosis or yeast infections.

When you exercise, all that sweating can introduce extra moisture and bad bacteria that can be a breeding ground that leads to infection. Here are her tips to keep your vagina fresh and clean during and after a workout.

  1. Wear moisture-wicking breathable workout clothes with a cotton crotch to allow airflow. Materials like nylon and lycra can trap moisture and heat, which can cause bacteria to multiply, possibly resulting in infection. Try to avoid these materials if you are susceptible to infections.
  2. Go commando. Even wearing cotton underwear adds another layer that can cause irritation and trap moisture.
  3. Ditch the thongs. The thong's friction and movement can introduce E. coli from the anus into the vagina and lead to potential urinary and vaginal infections.
  4. Change your clothes as soon as you finish your workout. Dr. Horton said to always keep clean, dry clothes with you to change into afterward because bacteria loves dark, moist places, and staying in your sweaty clothes can lead to infection. It's the same reason you shouldn't stay in a wet bathing suit.
  5. If you have time, take a shower. Wash your vulva with warm water and mild fragrance-free soap, and gently pat the vagina dry before putting new clothes on because, as mentioned above, excessive moisture and bacteria can lead to infection. In a hurry? Keep vaginal wipes handy in your gym bag, purse, or bathroom.
  6. Avoid using any douching products, deodourants, or sprays to mask odours. Your vagina is self-cleaning, and Dr. Horton explained that using these products can disrupt the normal pH of the vagina and reduce the number of Lactobacilli living there. If you get frequent infections, make sure to always wash your workout clothes after each use with a fragrance-free hypoallergenic detergent.
  7. Take a probiotic. Dr. Horton said, "Taking a probiotic can help restore the vagina's normal flora and decrease the risk of recurrent vaginal infections." Look for one that contains Lactobacillus, which is the same bacteria found in the vagina that keeps it slightly acidic so bad bacteria can't survive.
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Matthew Kelly
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