We’ve all been there: You’re at a music festival or on an airplane, and you have to pee SO. BADLY. But the only toilet looks questionable at best, so you do the obvious thing and hover. Friend, I have bad news: Hovering to pee may be bad for your health. It turns out that doing that classic partial-squat over a gross public toilet can weaken your bladder over time. And nobody wants that, right?
This tragic news for pee-ers everywhere comes from Justine Hall at Shape, who interviewed urologist Matthew Karlovsky, M.D, about everyone’s favorite germ-prevention-urination-stance. Hovering over a toilet seat is a very common method for avoiding contact with germs while using the restroom, but Karlovsky says that that distinctive half-squat forces your pelvic muscles to move unnaturally. “You are training your muscles to not relax,” he told Shape. “After many years, the bladder can become weaker.” And if that weren’t bad enough, hovering while you pee can also prevent you from fully releasing all of your urine, which in turn increases your risk for urinary tract infections. Not everyone will have these problems, of course, but if you find yourself hovering frequently, you may need to rethink your approach to public toilets.
So, what to do? Squatting completely (so that your knees are above your bum) is better for you than a half-squat because your muscles can relax. But that’s only practical in certain situations (say, you’re in the woods); doing a full squat on top of a toilet would be difficult (and also not very safe) if you’re in a public bathroom.
Another popular option is the good ol’ “covering the seat with toilet paper” trick, but although that won’t hurt your bladder muscles, it’s also not a very good protector against bathroom germs. That’s because most of the problems you’ll have with germs in the bathroom won’t come from the toilet seat, but from other bathroom surfaces. Toilets can harbor harmful bacteria, the Huffington Post reports, but usually the skin on people’s butts is a perfectly adequate barrier against infection.
The most important thing you can do to keep from picking up nasty germs in the bathroom has nothing to do with the toilet seat. It’s washing your hands, correctly. According to the CDC, that means wetting your hands, lathering them with soap, and scrubbing for a full 20 seconds. Make sure you don’t only focus on the palm; soap up under your nails, on the backs of your hands, and between your fingers. Rinse and dry.
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