What Are Recommended Exercises for Prostate Cancer?
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: October 2017 | Last updated: March 2022
Taking care of your body and fueling it in the most healthful way is an important aspect of both battling prostate cancer and living life after treatment. During treatment or immediately following, your doctor (or multiple doctors) will often help you create a survivorship care plan.1 This survivorship care plan will include recommendations on future follow-up appointments or screenings, dietary and exercise recommendations, signs and symptoms to be on the lookout for, and potential lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking. These guidelines are designed to help you live the healthiest life possible after cancer, as well as to help prevent your prostate cancer’s recurrence or the development of a new primary cancer in other locations.
Why is exercise so important?
Research suggests that obesity and lack of exercise can contribute to an increased risk of developing cancer, including prostate cancer.1,2 Conversely, maintaining a healthy weight and performing an appropriate amount of physical activity can help reduce your risk of developing these conditions. Additionally, certain prostate cancer medications increase an individual’s risk of developing other conditions, such as cardiovascular disease. Practicing safe and effective exercise can not only thwart off obesity, but can also improve cardiovascular functioning in all individuals, even those already at a healthy weight.1,2
Several studies have indicated that men who regularly exercise during or after prostate cancer treatment have a lower rate of both prostate cancer-related mortality and other cause-related mortality.3 Also, other studies have suggested that regular exercise before and after surgery can help manage quality of life-affecting symptoms after treatment, such as improving urinary incontinence in men who have had a radical prostatectomy.4 Not only this, but exercise in general can provide many other quality of life-improving benefits, including:
- Reducing fatigue, anxiety and depression
- Improving self-esteem
- Improving muscle strength and body composition
- Increasing overall happiness
- Aiding in the management of lymphedema (fluid accumulation in the body after lymph nodes have been removed)2
During and after treatment, your physical activity and nutrition needs may be very specific. For example, many individuals might experience nausea or vomiting during chemotherapy and become underweight, while others may gain weight due to the stress and anxiety of coping with a cancer diagnosis. This may lead to different exercise approaches for different individuals. Your doctor will help you determine what your current needs are, and will help you get on track with the most healthy exercise plan for your specific situation. In general, there are a set of physical activity guidelines set forth by the American Cancer Society that are geared toward all cancer survivors. While all of these may not apply to you at every point during your battle or recovery, they include the following:
- Avoid excess weight gain and try to remain as lean as possible throughout life without being underweight
- Avoid sedentary behaviors such as watching TV, sitting or lying down for long periods of time, and limiting other “screen time” (such as phones, tablets or computers)
- Perform 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise activities each week OR 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week OR a combination of the two1,2,5
It may not be possible for you to exercise, especially at a vigorous level, during or immediately after treatment. Your doctor will help you determine what level of exercise you are able to attempt, and will help make sure you are doing so safely. They may also recommend you to someone who specializes in creating exercise plans for individuals with cancer or survivors of cancer. It is important to note that exercise can come in a variety of forms from very low-intensity, such as stretching, slow walking, or yoga, to high-intensity, like sprinting. It is important to practice activities that are within your range of abilities.
Moderate exercise, according to the American Cancer Society and other experts, includes activities that you can perform while still talking occasionally, including ballroom dancing, biking on level ground or a path that has few hills, general gardening, throwing and catching-centered sports, hand cycles, brisk walking, water aerobics, or operating manual wheelchairs. Vigorous activities include activities that you would have trouble talking more than a few words at a time while performing, including hiking uphill, jumping rope, jogging, running, race walking, fast or aerobic dancing, biking more than 10 miles per hour, running-based sports, and swimming fast laps.2
It’s important to note that overhauling your exercise routine and sticking to a plan may not be an easy lifestyle change. It’s okay to make mistakes at times and to take breaks when you need to. However, one major factor that contributes to following, and sticking to, a change in exercise routine, is having support. It has been estimated that only 20 to 30% of individuals with cancer will be active after recovery from treatment, and a contributing factor to this may be lack of support.2 You can always speak with your doctor or oncology social worker if you have questions or need advice, as well as join in-person or online support groups and communities.
Enlisting the help of your friends and family to help keep you accountable, or to even try some of these activities with you, and can help you stay on the right path. Enjoying activities with family or friends will make performing them much more exciting and fun. Also, seeking support for feelings of depression, anxiety, and other emotional or mental issues that can come along with a cancer diagnosis may also help your overall wellness and ability to stick to your survivorship care plan.1