When you have interstitial cystitis (IC) or suffer from painful bladder symptoms, it's natural to focus on the treatment and care of your condition. But don't forget that your overall health is important, too. One step that's essential to achieving good health? Exercise. Exercise provides countless benefits, from lowering blood pressure and helping prevent cancer to reducing the risk for diabetes. It can even help you manage IC symptoms and reduce stress. If you've shied away from exercise because of painful bladder symptoms, you aren't alone. But it's time to take action to boost your overall well-being. The key is to approach exercise with your unique needs in mind. The tips below will help get you started. Ready, set, stretch Stretching helps to relax muscles and increase flexibility, which can reduce pain in the pelvic area. If you need help, talk with a physical therapist who's trained in treating pelvic pain. He or she can teach you how to stretch effectively as well as choose exercises that will reduce your chance for flare-ups. Focus on smooth moves When deciding which types of exercise to try, avoid those with sudden, jarring motions such as running or step aerobics. Instead, look for activities that involve smooth movements. This will reduce the impact on your bladder and help avoid pressure in the pelvic area. Options may include walking, tai chi, gentle yoga, rowing, the elliptical machine, gentle resistance machines, and stretching classes. Swimming may be a good choice for some, but pool chemicals can irritate the bladder. If you enjoy swimming, try it for a few minutes first to test your sensitivity. And always remove your bathing suit and take a shower directly after your water workout. Get the right gear It's important to wear loose and comfortable clothing when exercising. Wear only cotton underwear, and wash them in gentle hypoallergenic or baby detergent, rinsing twice. Never use dryer sheets or fabric softeners, which can trigger irritation. An investment in you When you live with IC, there will be days that you don't feel the best. When you have flare-ups, don't push yourself to exercise. Instead, take a quiet stroll or rest until you feel better. Sticking with an exercise plan isn't always easy, even for people without IC. If you fall off the wagon, don't give up. Focus on the long-term benefits of exercise and try again the next day. Remember that working out for overall good health isn't a sprint; it's a marathon. Each minute you spend moving is an investment in yourself.