A diagnosis of prostate cancer isn’t just about a small gland below your bladder. In fact, it’s a wakeup call to take a big-picture look at your general “health quotient.” There are many factors that motivate men to get up and get moving, but prostate cancer is not exactly the one that springs to mind. However, exercise after prostate cancer treatment is a big value-added when it comes to preventing prostate cancer, preparing for treatment, and maintaining positive treatment outcomes. Since an estimated one out of six U.S. men will be diagnosed with this disease each year, it’s a big reason to commit to regular workouts.
Exercise as prostate cancer prevention
Clinical research shows a positive association between low activity levels and greater likelihood of developing prostate cancer. For example, one study of 286 men diagnosed with prostate cancer examined how healthy the men were before their biopsies. The average age was 68. Health assessments included the usual tests for blood sugar, cholesterol/ triglycerides, blood pressure, metabolism, body mass index, waist measurement and a standardized physical activity questionnaire. Biopsies then revealed that 106 men (37%) had prostate cancer.
When all calculations were in (age, PSA level and prostate size), low activity levels were an independent risk factor for prostate cancer—especially aggressive prostate cancer. Let’s say it another way: Men who were more physically active were less likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer, and if they were, they were at lower risk for dangerous disease. While the study did not address the biological mechanisms, the data is persuasive. Consider beginning a vigorous workout program if you’re not already doing so.
Exercise as treatment preparation for prostate cancer
If you have prostate cancer and are leaning toward treatment, exercise before your procedure can help you get through it better and recover more quickly. Become diligent about it at least six weeks ahead of time, and think of it as “pre-hab.” While today’s treatments are trending toward minimally invasive surgical approaches and more targeted radiation, most treated patients undergo whole gland (or radical) treatments that are harder on the body. Exercise will boost your strength and energy; heading into a procedure with toned muscles and limber joints will lessen the tendency toward weakness and stiffness in the days following. Returning to normal activity is easier and faster, too.
Men who are having radical prostatectomy should particularly focus on strengthening the muscles of the pelvic floor, much as women do before childbirth. These are called Kegel exercises, and the Mayo Clinic has an easy-to-follow program for men.
Prostate cancer patients who exercise regularly often have a “positive addiction” for their workouts, and can’t wait to get back to their program. In all cases, follow your doctor’s guidelines for easing back in. Most importantly (and maybe hardest) is to avoid overdoing activity after a medical intervention, especially if you had general anesthesia. Don’t wait for your body to droop with exhaustion or get your attention with aches and pains. Take heart in knowing that if you were already fit, you will regain your strength faster than if you had been a couch potato prior to treatment.
Exercise as an aid to prostate cancer recovery
All prostate cancer treatments come with some risk, however small, of affecting urinary and sexual performance. Vigorous activity can help improve quality of life for those dealing with short- or long-term side effects of treatment. To illustrate this, a study of post-prostatectomy (surgical prostate removal) patients compared the recoveries of two groups. The exercise group participated in a 15-month supervised program of weekly 60-minute moderate exercise sessions, while the other group had no intervention.
The authors noted that outcomes included “aerobic fitness, activity levels, quality of life, disease- and treatment-related adverse effects, such as urinary incontinence and erectile dysfunction, and relapse-relevant blood values.” There were significant differences between the two groups. The exercise group had better urinary symptom scores, overall fitness, emotional and social function, and treatment-related ED. This study echoes the findings of similar work, but is especially compelling because of its duration. What better argument for continuing exercise when treatment has become a distant memory?
There is considerably more men’s health consciousness today than there was in my grandfather’s – even my father’s – day. At our Center we embrace a holistic philosophy of supporting prostate healthy by supporting the health of the whole person. With respect to prostate cancer, exercise is an investment in prevention and positive treatment outcomes. Remember: Work out. Eat well. Be patient. Your body will reward you!
Read more in our Prostate Cancer Health Center.
De Nunzio C et al. Physical activity as a risk factor for prostate cancer diagnosis: a prospective biopsy cohort analysis. BJU Int 2015 Apr 24
Zopf EM et al. Effects of a 15-Month Supervised Exercise Program on Physical and Psychological Outcomes in Prostate Cancer Patients Following Prostatectomy: The ProRehab Study. Integr Cancer Ther. 2015 Apr 27