All you need to know about exercise and prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is the abnormal growth of cells in the prostate gland, which can be confined to the prostate or spread to other areas of the body. Common treatments include radiation, chemotherapy, prostatectomy and androgen deprivation therapy.

In addition to these medical treatments, lifestyle interventions such as dietary changes, complementary medications and exercise can all improve your health and quality of life. Exercise has proven to be beneficial in the prevention and management of prostate cancer and some of it’s associated side effects.

Exercise to prevent prostate cancer
The maintenance of normal body weight, controlling stress and anxiety and maintaining physical fitness all improve the function of the immune system. Evidence suggests that regular and vigorous physical exercise can prevent the onset of certain cancers, including prostate cancer. This effect is greater in advanced diseases or in older men. One study found that performing more than three hours of vigorous exercise per week reduced the incidence of prostate cancer by 70% for advanced forms of cancer and in older men.

Exercise to manage prostate cancer
Exercise is especially important for men who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer. It may help to reduce symptoms, decrease side effects of radiation and drug therapies, improve your psychological wellbeing as well as increasing your survival rate. There is strong evidence to suggest that regular exercise increases cancer survival rates by 50-60%, in particular for breast, colorectal and prostate cancer.

Exercise is of greater importance for men who are being treated with androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) for their prostate cancer. As this type of therapy stops the production of male hormones, side effects may include reduced bone strength, a loss in muscle mass, increased fatigue, higher cholesterol and increased depression and cognitive function. Exercise may help to offset the metabolic effects of this type of therapy. It may also help with the management of chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes, which are associated with prostate cancer treatment, especially in patients undergoing ADT.

Types of exercise
The amount and type of physical activity that you do will depend on your stage of cancer, the type of treatment you’re having and your current fitness level. Start slow and build up to approximately 20-60 minutes of moderate exercise three to five times a week. Moderate exercise can generally be described as exercise that makes your heart beat faster but you are still able to talk. A more technical goal is to achieve 60-90% of your maximal heart rate (220 beats per minute minus your age).

The recommended exercises for men with prostate cancer are resistance (weight) training for two or more sessions per week as well as flexibility exercises for major muscle groups two to three times per week.

Resistance exercise is helpful to manage your side effects and to maintain a healthy body weight, muscle mass, cardiovascular system and metabolic profile. Men with prostate cancer often have low bone mineral density, or low bone strength, and osteoporosis, which is a disease which cause the bones to weaken and therefore makes them more likely to fracture. This is largely due to their age and is even more common in those being treated with ADT. Therefore, impact-loading exercise is recommended with the aim of slowing or reversing bone loss. Some examples of this type of exercise are walking, weight training, jogging, hiking, tennis and dancing. However caution would need to be taken if you suffer from severe osteoporosis or your cancer has spread to the bone.

Before beginning any exercise program, speak to your doctor or nurse who may be able to advise you or refer you on to an exercise physiologist if necessary. Other safety tips to consider include:

  • Avoid falls due to the risk of bone injury
  • Dress in properly fitting clothing and shoes
  • Do not exercise on uneven surfaces
  • Drink enough water
  • Do not exercise if you are feeling unwell, have any pain, sickness or other unusual symptoms
  • Stop if you experience any of these symptoms whilst exercising
  • If you’re being treated with radiotherapy and are experiencing skin irritation, avoid swimming pools as the chlorine may aggravate it.

Performed correctly and under your health professional’s guidance, exercise can help you to optimise your treatment and recover and achieve better overall health and wellbeing.

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