21 Aug 2014
In - The Manual

Physical activity has many health benefits for men with prostate cancer, but staying active during cancer treatment can be a challenge. Here, our Specialist Nurse, Naomi answers your questions about keeping fit with prostate cancer.

Why do I need to stay physically active?

Staying active is good for your general health and wellbeing. It helps improve your circulation which means the blood flows around your body and delivers the oxygen and nutrients that your tissues need to work well.

Physical activity helps to use up any spare calories, which makes it easier for you to stay a healthy weight. It can improve your energy levels, lift your mood and help with some of the side effects of treatment, such as fatigue. Being a healthy weight can also help erection problems and bowel problems, like constipation. It can also reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes. Some research also suggests that physical activity and being a healthy weight can slow down the growth of prostate cancer.

How can physical activity help with the side effects I’m experiencing?

There are many side effects of treatment which regular physical activity can help you manage. For example, extreme tiredness (fatigue) can be a side effect of most cancer treatments. Regular physical activity can help boost your energy levels and help you feel less tired.

If you’re on hormone therapy staying active is even more important. Hormone therapy, apart from causing fatigue and tiredness, can also cause weight gain, mood swings, muscle loss and thinning of the bones. Staying active helps keep the weight in check and lifts the ‘blues’. Resistance exercises such as swimming and lifting light weights can help to reduce muscle loss and keep you stronger. Staying physically active can also help with side effects such as anxiety and depression.

Talk to your doctor or nurse before starting any exercise. They may be able to refer you to a physiotherapist who can suggest a specific exercise programme for your needs. They may also be able to put you in touch with a local exercise programme run by qualified trainers, which, depending on your circumstances and what’s available, may be offered free or at a reduced cost.

How can I stay active when I feel exhausted all the time?

Tiredness (or fatigue) is one of the most common effects of cancer. It can be the result of the cancer itself, or its treatment. Just the experience of a cancer diagnosis or going through treatment can be stressful and worrying, and this can leave you feeling exhausted.

It’s good to have some periods of rest, but not doing anything all day can make you feel more tired and less motivated. Try and stay active with some gentle exercise – even if it’s just a stroll around the block. It can help lift your mood and make you feel more energised and awake.

If you’re feeling too tired to walk outdoors, simply move around your home. You can even exercise from your chair or bed. Try lifting and and stretching your arms and legs, which can help improve your muscle strength.

What sort of physical activity should I do?

Physical activity can be any activity that makes your heart beat faster so that you’re slightly breathless – but still able to talk. Walking, swimming, cycling, pottering around the garden, mowing the lawn, dancing or even doing some household chores are all good ways of keeping yourself active. Don’t be afraid to try something new. If you find something you like, and that fits around your everyday life, you might be more likely to stick with it.

How much physical activity should I do?

This will depend on the stage of your cancer and what treatment you’re having, as well as your fitness levels. Even if you don’t feel able to do a lot of physical activity, regular small amounts will help.

Start with an activity that fits around your day, like walking to the local shop instead of driving. Gradually increase the amount you do as you become fitter. If you can, build up to 30 minutes of physical activity three to five days a week. Half an hour of activity may seem daunting, but remember you can reach this amount by doing 10 minutes of activity three times a day.

Speak to your doctor before you start any kind of exercise plan. This is particularly important if you have any other health problems, such as heart disease or problems with your joints or muscles. Your doctor can give you advice and help you get started.

Is it safe for me to exercise when I’m having treatment?

Gentle exercise is usually safe for men with prostate cancer and those having treatment. But it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor or nurse about the activities you want to do. Your doctor may suggest you avoid certain activities. For example, radiotherapy can cause skin irritation so if you enjoy swimming you may need to stop doing this during your treatment as the chlorine can make any skin problems worse.

If you’ve had surgery, your doctor may suggest you avoid swimming, long walks and heavy lifting for a period of time. Ask your doctor when you can begin normal activities again.

I’m finding it hard to get motivated, what can help?

Staying active can be fun and doesn’t have to be a chore. Find an activity you enjoy, take things at your own pace and keep your exercise goals realistic. Ask friends or family to be involved and choose an activity which fits in with your life. For example, meeting up with friends to go for a walk together.

Joining a local walking, gardening or dance and drama group is another great way to stay active. Contact your local library or community centre to find out what’s happening near you. Following an exercise programme, such as 10,000 steps a day can also help you stay motivated. You can get more information about walking 10,000 steps a day from the NHS Choices website.

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