Can Exercise Make Cystitis Worse?

Can Exercise Make Cystitis Worse?

Navigating Exercise with Cystitis - By Siobhan Carroll

Reading time: 5 minutes

Cystitis is painful and often the last thing you want to do when you have it is exercise. You may even be wondering if exercise will make your infection worse. Well, it really depends because it’s all about the balance! In this blog I look at when it’s ok to exercise with a UTI, and what sort of exercise to avoid.

Can exercise make cystitis worse?

Intense or prolonged exercise should be avoided if you have any active infection, including UTIs. However, if you feel well enough to exercise then gentle to moderate exercise is suitable when you have an active bladder infection such as cystitis, but you may want to avoid exercises that place extra pressure on your lower abdomen.


Moderate exercise is best

When it comes to exercising when you have cystitis, it’s all about balance. Not your actual balance, a UTI won’t affect your balance in the same that an ear infection might! I’m talking about balance in how much exercise you do.

Exercising in and of itself is not going to make a cystitis infection worse. Gentle exercise is fine, if you feel well enough for it. You may want to wear more loose-fitting clothes with breathable natural fibres, and you may want to avoid things like cycling or placing extra pressure on your lower abdomen in certain yoga poses. But if a spin class in spandex is your jam and you feel up for then there’s no medical reason you shouldn’t do it!


Exercise releases endorphins

Endorphins are the pain-killing hormones released when we hug, have sex, give birth and exercise. Having sex can often aggravate cystitis or even cause an infection and I certainly hope you don’t ever have to go through childbirth with a UTI. Yikes! Exercise however, and hugs, are on the cards and the pain-killing effects of these endorphins may be a welcome relief during a bout of cystitis.

But you know that awkward feeling when a hug goes on just a bit too long... you’re probably not getting endorphins anymore at that stage. Same goes for exercising. When we overdo it on the exercise, train too long or too hard, then the stress response starts to kick off. Not the most helpful thing for our cystitis!


Don’t over-exercise

Overdoing it can make things worse. Gentle yoga is good, an intense hot vinyasa class, probably less so. A walk or even run, if that’s what you’re into, probably fine. Whereas running a marathon with an infection is best avoided. Of course, it depends on you and how much you exercise regularly when you are well.

If you are a couch potato on the best of days, I would recommend starting your couch to 5K* once the infection has eased. However, if you already a marathon runner, you may just need to train a little bit less than you are used to.


Stay hydrated

It is really important if you do exercise when you have cystitis that you drink more water to replace any fluid lost through your sweat. Dehydration can make a cystitis infection more painful and last longer. If you want to learn more about the link between hydration and cystitis check out my blog “Does drinking lots of water help cystitis.” 

Exercise for prevention

If you are prone to infections, exercise can be helpful way to support your immune system and reduce how often you get sick, according to a 2016 study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, which followed nearly 19,000 people in Denmark for one year. (1)

While the study was looking at respiratory tract infections, not urinary tract infections, the same immune-supporting benefits apply. When you have a strong immune system, you are less likely to get sick, whether that is a cold or cystitis. So even if you don’t feel up for exercising now, make sure you do get active once you’re feeling better.

Try going for a brisk walk with a friend, joining a gym or even an online exercise class. Choose the stairs instead of the lift, do squats while waiting for the kettle to boil: just get active!


Self-awareness and self-care

When you are sick, you need a little bit of TLC. Think about when you were a child and your mum brought you hot soup and tea while you spent the day on the couch with your duvet and cartoons. When we are adults, we often need to look after ourselves and own inner child when we are feeling under the weather.

This usually looks like giving yourself a break, saying no to exercise if you don’t feel up to it, and making yourself some hot tea and soup for your duvet day. Basically, allow yourself to rest. It is ok! The reason we crave duvet days when we feel under the weather is because rest is a huge help when we are fighting an infection.


Herbal Helpers

Uva ursi and Echinacea are two great herbs to take if you have cystitis. If you do have an infection, you can always avail yourself of some great support from these herbal helpers. These herbs can ease symptoms, so that you can get back to exercising sooner if that’s your goal!


Listen to your body

“But wait, what if I don’t know if I feel up for it or not?” That’s ok. Many people never feel up for exercising and just push themselves out the door because they know they should. Many of us are so disconnected from our bodies that it is hard to feel into what we really need.

We are a society of overthinkers and we are constantly being bombarded with other people’s opinions. This means we often disregard what is actually best for us. We can’t hear what our bodies are telling us because are too busy overthinking it in our heads.


Here is a short exercise for you to help you feel into your body and feel into the decision whether exercise is the right thing for you do right now:

  1. Sit down in a place where you won’t be disturbed for a few minutes. Make sure you turn off any notifications on your phone. Close your eyes and take a few deep belly breaths, letting your entire abdomen expand on each inhale and letting all the air out on each exhale.
  2. Now place your attention on your head, inside your head, behind your eyes, into your throat, out to your shoulders. If you feel any tension in your shoulders, intentionally let it go on an exhale. Now take your attention to your abdomen, deep into your core, and into your pelvis. Keep your focus here for a couple of breaths and then ask yourself “Will this exercise that I’m thinking of doing now be good for me at this moment or do I need rest?”
  3. Some people might hear their inner voice answer, but others might sense an answer, see an answer in their mind’s eye, or something else. It can be different for everyone. This a great way of getting out of your head: “should I exercise? Is it ok to exercise?” Instead, you are asking your body, “do you feel up for exercising today?” You can use this activity for so many decisions, and if it felt a bit weird or you didn’t really know what you were doing, good news, the more you do it the easier it gets to feel into an answer, rather than overthink it.

*commission earned from this link.

Siobhán Carroll

Siobhán Carroll is a fully qualified clinical Herbalist and Naturopath based in Ireland. She works for A.Vogel as a Medical Herbalist in their education department and runs her own clinic in the west of Ireland (Co.Clare) and online via her website