As a Physical Therapist practicing in a urologist’s office, I have the privilege of working with men in all stages of treatment for prostate cancer. I am fortunate to be able to teach pelvic floor exercises (kegels) to many men before they have surgery and/or radiation therapy. At this initial visit, in addition to discussing the pelvic floor, bladder control, and sexual function, I will often discuss adopting healthy living practices. We discuss how in the days or weeks before surgery, it is important to begin or to continue exercise programs and eating healthy foods. In this article, I am going to jump into exercise outlining the benefits and providing a general guideline for getting started.
The many benefits of exercise
There are so many general benefits to exercise including improvements in mood, energy level, better sleep, building muscle and bone strength, cardiovascular status and prevention, and treatment of many diseases. I have often said that our first prescription for any patient should be movement and exercise. Now let’s consider how exercise specifically helps with patients dealing with and fighting prostate cancer.
Improving day-to-day life
In medicine, we like to reference large scale studies that support what we are telling our patients. In terms of exercise for prostate cancer, there is a large body of evidence supporting the fact that exercise improves the quality of life of those who participate in regular exercise. A 2016 study in the European Journal of Urology stated as a conclusion:
“This review shows that exercise/physical activity interventions can improve quality of life, fatigue, fitness, and function for men with prostate cancer.”
This study was meta-analysis, meaning they looked at a bunch of studies and combined all the data into this conclusion. Good news, because exercise is available to us all.
How can exercise be used to fight cancer?
More recently, studies are beginning to look at how exercise and healthy BMI can play a role in long term survival rates and suppressing tumor growth. Here is a quote from a 2017 article titled “Exercise Medicine for Advanced Prostate Care”:
“Preclinical data provide insight into the ability of exercise to modulate cancer-specific outcomes, may synergistically increase the potency of chemotherapy and radiotherapy and may endogenously and/or mechanically suppress tumour formation, growth and invasion in visceral and skeletal tissue. Epidemiological studies have also shown an association between physical activity and increased survival”.1
Bottom line: Exercise is good for the vast majority of men diagnosed with prostate cancer. You will feel better, have more energy, sleep better, and potentially have an improved outcome.
Great, now what?
A general guideline for cancer patients
Get the “OK” from your doctor to start exercising. Always ask to be on the safe side. I suspect your doc will be very encouraging and may even have some good resources for you.
The general guideline for cancer patients includes:
- 150 min per week of moderate or 75 min per week of vigorous aerobic exercise or an equivalent combination. This means activities like brisk walking, jogging, elliptical, biking, swimming, or anything that you enjoy that gets your heart pumping.
- Perform resistance exercise of moderate or high intensity on two or more days per week. This can be using the weight machines at the gym or body weight exercises like push-ups, lunges, squats. Ideally, you would add some weight resistance with hand held weights or TheraBand.
If you are new to exercise, start slowly and if able enlist the help of a professional.
Remember any new habit or life change may take time and motivation to get started. Be persistent but also respect your cancer care journey. Do what you can do on the days you can and give yourself lots of high fives for taking steps in the right direction!
Which prostate cancer treatment did you first receive?