We’ve all heard that exercise is good for us, but what do we actually know about the links between physical activity and prostate cancer? And how can we fit exercise in to our own daily lives? Specialist Nurse Meg Burgess has some answers, as well as a few ideas to get you moving.
Can physical activity reduce the risk of prostate cancer?
There have been lots of studies on physical activity and prostate cancer risk, but the results haven’t given us definite answers. However, the World Cancer Research Fund recently published a large new study suggesting that being overweight or obese probably increases your risk of getting prostate cancer that’s aggressive (more likely to spread) or advanced (cancer that has spread outside the prostate). Keeping active can help you stay a healthy weight, so it might be important for lowering this risk.
I’ve read that adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week – what is moderate exercise?
Moderate exercise means your heart should beat faster but you should still be able to talk – about the level of a brisk walk. The good news is that you don’t have to do 150 minutes in one go; you might prefer to exercise three times a day, for 10 minutes at a time. If you’re not used to being active, don’t worry – a small amount of exercise can still help. Just take things at your own pace and do as much as you feel able to. You may find you can do more and more as time goes by.
Is exercise helpful for men with prostate cancer?
Physical activity is important for general health and wellbeing, and it can help you stay a healthy weight. It can also help with some of the side effects of prostate cancer treatment. For example, it may help lower your risk of heart disease if you’re on hormone therapy. It may also help with other side effects of treatment, including muscle loss and fatigue (extreme tiredness). Exercise can also help lift your mood, which may be helpful if you have feelings of anxiety or depression.
I’m having surgery to remove my prostate – when can I get back to my normal fitness routine?
You’ll need to take it easy for the first couple of weeks after surgery, just doing gentle exercise around the home. After the first couple of weeks, light exercise such as a short walk each day will help improve your fitness. This can also help if you’re having problems with constipation after your surgery. But try not to do too much for the first eight weeks after the operation – it’s best to avoid climbing lots of stairs or lifting heavy things. If you’re having keyhole surgery, you’re more likely to get back to your usual activities more quickly than after open surgery. Talk to your doctor or nurse about your own situation.
I have advanced prostate cancer that’s spread to my bones, is it safe for me to run?
When prostate cancer spreads to the bones, it can damage them and cause them to become weaker. This increases your risk of broken bones. Most men with advanced prostate cancer will also be on hormone therapy, which can also increase your risk of bone thinning. Because of this, it’s important to check with your doctor before doing any high-impact exercises such as running or contact sports. You should also be careful to avoid falls, as these can increase the risk of fractures.
Damage to the bones can make it difficult or painful to move around. You may also feel tired and find it hard to keep active. Don’t try to exercise if you have any pain or feel unwell – it’s important to take things at your own pace and not to push yourself.
I’ve heard ‘resistance’ exercise is helpful if I’ve got weak bones. What is resistance exercise?
Resistance exercise, or strength training, is exercise where you strengthen your muscles by pushing against something. This might be lifting weights or using elastic resistance bands. Or you can use your own body weight as resistance by doing exercises like squats and push-ups. We don’t yet know whether exercise can help to prevent bone thinning in men who are on hormone therapy. But gentle resistance exercise may help to reduce muscle loss and keep you strong. This can help to prevent falls that could cause broken bones.
I’m on hormone therapy and feel too tired to exercise, do you have any tips?
Fatigue is a common side effect of hormone therapy. If your energy levels go up and down, try to make the most of the times when you’re feeling more active. This might be a short walk around the block, or some gentle exercises with an elastic resistance band. You can even exercise from your chair or bed – for example, use a resistance band to help you lift and stretch your arms and legs.
You may not feel like exercising, but many men feel more energised and awake after doing some light exercise, so it can actually help with fatigue. Do talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise plan though, and make sure you rest when you need to. You might also want to try our fatigue support service, which can help you make lifestyle changes that should improve your fatigue over time.
How can I motivate my partner to get more active?
Some people find exercising with others more enjoyable than doing it alone. So one of the best ways to encourage your man to exercise more might simply be to do it with him. If you already have your own fitness routine, you could invite him to join you for part of it. Or you could suggest a short walk each day and gradually make these walks longer and longer. You might want to take up a new activity together, such as swimming, tai chi or learning to dance. Or your partner might like the idea of getting outdoors with his friends.
Remember that the amount of exercise your loved one is able to do will depend on many things, including his general level of fitness, the stage of his cancer, and any side effects of his treatment. It’s important for him to rest if he needs to. Bear in mind that how he’s feeling may change from hour to hour. You might find this frustrating, but try to support and encourage him, rather than telling him what to do. And remember that not all men will want, or be able, to get more physically active.
If you or your partner have any concerns about what exercise is suitable, speak to your doctor or nurse. They can give you advice about exercising safely and may be able to refer your partner to an exercise programme or a physiotherapist for further advice and support. Read more about physical activity.
The World Cancer Research Fund has published a report showing that men who are overweight or obese are at more risk of developing an advanced or aggressive form of prostate cancer than men of healthy weight. They’ve also estimated that around 10 per cent of the men diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer in the UK each year could be prevented from developing it, if they kept to a healthy weight.