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Should We Exercise With A Cancer Diagnosis?

“It’s tiring being sick. You need all the rest you can get just to get through the day.”

Is this good advice? Almost certainly not, unless you have other significant health conditions for which activity really is not a good idea.

The frustrations of aging

Cancer is essentially a disease of aging. With a few exceptions, it’s rarer in people under forty-five years of age. The median age for a prostate cancer diagnosis is at least seventy, so half of all men will be diagnosed above that age.

Now older age is cruel on the body. Not only does our DNA go rogue, allowing cancer cells to grow unchecked without treatment, but our muscles lose volume and elasticity. Muscles waste by about one percent per year in our fifties, two percent in our sixties and this rises to five percent in our eighties. The scientific term for this loss is sarcopenia (from Greek sark, meaning flesh, penia meaning poverty). It’s also more easily called age-related muscle loss.

You’ve heard ladies complain about their bat-wings, I’m sure. The two main muscles of the upper arm, the biceps and the triceps fill the skin of younger people, but as age-related muscle-loss takes hold the muscles shrink and the skin is left, loose and with a saggy feel to it. The same is happening to all your muscles, including the most important of them all, your heart.

Fighting muscle loss

There is a solution to muscle loss. Just like leaving a car for a long time without using it is bad for it, so if we let our bodies become less active we lose the use of the bits we need. Climbing stairs becomes hard, lifting bags of shopping is difficult and sometimes just keeping upright is hard.

The problem is made worse as overall as we are becoming larger. Diets that were full of fresh, home-cooked food have been replaced by sugary drinks, pizza, pasta, chocolate and snacks. That cancer diagnosis becomes far harder to deal with for a body that’s out of condition, carrying too much fat and losing strength rapidly. There’s some good evidence that people who are overweight are more likely to develop advanced, that is metastatic prostate cancer.

Lifestyle changes

So your cancer diagnosis might just be the warning bell in your life to make some changes. Reduce the high-calorie carbohydrates in pizza, pasta and potatoes, and be more active. General guidance is for thirty minutes of moderate activity five days a week. Personally, I’d raise that to an hour, five days a week depending on your doctor’s recommendation. Make three of those days when you exercise outside when the weather permits, such as biking, running or jogging or swimming, and two days in the gym using weights and your bodyweight to work and improve those muscles. Resistance training not only slows muscle wastage but in doing so it strengthens your bones, helping to prevent osteoporosis, another tough side-effect of getting older.

The best side-effect of all though is that regular activity increases energy levels. So to give yourself the best chance of dealing with cancer, don’t rest your body, work it. It’ll be the best present you ever gave yourself.

About the author:
Simon Lord was diagnosed with localized prostate cancer in 2010 aged fifty. He has recently qualified as a personal trainer and will soon start studying as a cancer rehabilitation therapist.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Will Jones moderator
    2 years ago

    I remained very active prior to my prostate cancer surgery in April, started walking as soon as I got out of the hospital, and now I’m working my way back to my normal exercise routine. For me the rewards are both physical and psychological. When my body is active, my mind is happy.

  • dockam
    2 years ago

    I’ve taken my Stage IV dx in 01/2015 and decided to do what I could to prevent other men from going thru what I had – 15 Taxotere chemos, 30 months ADT. Fight On

  • ninaw moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi @dockam! To echo Richard, thank you so much for sharing this incredible work with us. I can see you’re an inspiration to so many guys and their loved ones. Really grateful for this article and to have you here! If you ever want to submit a blog story to us, we’d be happy to have your perspective: – Nina, Team

  • Richard Faust moderator
    2 years ago

    Thanks for all the work you do for prostate cancer awareness and advocacy dockam. Best, Richard ( Team)

  • Greg Reynolds
    2 years ago

    SimonLord, I agree staying physical is very important throughout the entire prostate cancer journey.
    Greg, moderator

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