Your diet and physical activity

A healthy diet and regular physical activity are important for general health and can help you stay a healthy weight. This may be particularly important if you have prostate cancer, as there is strong evidence that being overweight raises the risk of aggressive (more likely to spread) or advanced prostate cancer.

A healthy lifestyle can also help manage many of the side effects of treatments for prostate cancer.

We don't recommend any set diet or exercise programme. Instead, we suggest some changes to improve your overall health, and that might help with your prostate cancer.

Why is a healthy lifestyle important?

A healthy lifestyle can give you more control over your health and help you to improve it. Lots of things can affect your health, including the following.

Staying a healthy weight can lower your risk of many health problems, including heart disease, type-2 diabetes and some cancers. There is also strong evidence that being overweight raises the risk of aggressive or advanced prostate cancer. So it may be particularly important for men with prostate cancer to stay a healthy weight.

Being a healthy weight may mean your prostate cancer is less likely to spread after surgery or radiotherapyHormone therapy might also be less effective if you're very overweight. And staying a healthy weight may help you manage or reduce some of the side effects of treatments, such as urinary problems after surgery.

What if I'm underweight?

Being underweight can also affect your health. For example, underweight men have a higher risk of bone thinning. Some types of hormone therapy can also cause bone thinning, so men on hormone therapy may be particularly at risk of bone thinning if they are also underweight. And being underweight can also slow your recovery from treatments such as surgery.

If you're underweight and are struggling to put on weight, speak to your GP. They may check to see if you have any other health problems that could be causing your weight loss. They may also refer you to a dietitian to help you put on some weight.

How do I know if I'm a healthy weight?

Your body mass index (BMI) can be a good way to check if you're a healthy weight for your height. The NHS website has information about how to work out your BMI.

Another way to check if you’re a healthy weight is to measure the size of your waist, as carrying fat around your middle can raise the risk of heart disease and other health problems. Wrap a tape measure around your body, half-way between the top of your hips and the bottom of your ribs. Don't suck your tummy in, just breathe out naturally.

For a man, if your waist size is 94cm (37 inches) or more, you have a higher risk of health problems. If it's 102cm (40 inches) or more, you're at much higher risk.

Losing weight safely

It’s important to lose weight steadily by making healthy changes to your diet, and slowly increasing the amount of exercise you do. Try to avoid popular short-term diets that cause very quick weight loss. They often cut out important food groups or can be too low in calories. If you lose weight too quickly by not eating enough, your body might not get all the nutrients it needs. And if you don't keep eating healthily after losing weight, you may put the weight back on again. Read more about healthy eating and physical activity.

Getting support

Talk to your doctor if you’re worried about your weight. They can help you think about suitable changes to your diet or physical activity. They may be able to refer you to a dietitian or exercise programme. You can also get more information from other organisations.

A healthy diet is important for your overall health. It can help you stay a healthy weight and can lower your risk of health problems such as heart disease, type-2 diabetes and some cancers. Read more about healthy eating.

You may have heard of certain foods or diets that might be helpful for men with prostate cancer, and some that might be harmful. Unfortunately, different studies have had different results, so we don't know for sure whether specific foods can affect the growth of prostate cancer or the risk of it spreading.

However, some changes to your diet may help reduce or manage some of the side effects of prostate cancer treatment. And some men with prostate cancer find that changing their diet helps them feel more in control.

Physical activity is any type of body movement that uses energy. It doesn’t have to be a sport or going to the gym – it could be walking, swimming or gardening. We don't know for sure if physical activity can help slow the growth of prostate cancer, but we do know that it's important for your overall health and wellbeing. 

Being active can also help with some of the side effects of treatment. And exercise may lift your mood and help you cope with feelings of anxiety or depression

Read more about physical activity.

We don’t know if alcohol has any specific effect on men with prostate cancer. But we do know that drinking too much alcohol can make you put on weight and cause other health problems, such as heart disease, liver disease and some cancers.

The government recommends that men should not regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week. That’s equal to six pints of average-strength beer or six small glasses of average-strength wine. Try to spread this out over the week and have some alcohol-free days.

How many units of alcohol are in a drink?

  • A pint of lager, beer or cider (4 per cent alcohol) contains 2-3 units.
  • A 175ml glass of wine (12 per cent alcohol) contains about 2 units.
  • A 25ml measure of spirit (40 per cent alcohol) contains 1 unit.

Speak to your doctor or nurse about whether it's okay to drink alcohol if you're having prostate cancer treatment. If you have urinary problems after treatment, try to drink less alcohol. Alcohol can irritate the bladder and make urinary problems worse. The NHS website has lots of tips on drinking less alcohol and getting support.

Smoking can cause health problems such as heart disease, stroke and some types of cancer. It may also be harmful for men with prostate cancer.

Some research suggests that smoking makes prostate cancer more likely to grow and spread to other parts of the body (advanced prostate cancer). And the more you smoke, the greater the risk.

Smoking may also make prostate cancer more likely to come back after surgery or radiotherapy. And heavy smoking may mean you’re more likely to die from prostate cancer. But the good news is that if you stop smoking, your risk should start to drop – and after 10 years it could be as low as for men who have never smoked.

Stopping smoking can also help with the side effects of prostate cancer treatment. For example, you may be less likely to get certain urinary problems after radiotherapy. And stopping smoking may help to protect your bone health if you're having hormone therapy.

For information about stopping smoking, talk to your doctor or visit the NHS website.

How can I eat more healthily?

If you decide to improve your diet, remember that food is an enjoyable and often social part of life. You should still be able to enjoy your meals and occasional treats.

A healthy diet doesn’t need to be boring. In fact, it’s good to eat a variety of different foods so that you get a range of nutrients. You could try some new foods to add more variety to your meals. For example, you could try a new fruit or vegetable each week.

Set yourself realistic goals and start by making small changes that you feel comfortable with. Trying to make lots of big changes all at once can be difficult, and you may find it hard to keep them going over time.

Try to cut down on unhealthy foods and drinks, such as those high in sugar or saturated fat, and those with added flavouring or preservatives. Look at the labels on packaged foods to find out how many calories (energy), and how much fat, salt and sugar are in them. You can then compare different products to find the healthiest ones. Remember that low-fat foods aren’t always the best option – some may still be high in sugar or calories.

If you want help to improve your diet, ask your doctor to refer you to a dietitian. They can help if you want to make big changes to your diet, or if you have other health problems that could be affected by your diet, such as diabetes.

Fruit and vegetables

Fruit and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet and a good source of vitamins, minerals and fibre. Eating lots of fruit and vegetables helps to lower your risk of health problems, including heart disease and some cancers. It can also help you lose weight or stay a healthy weight.

Aim to eat at least five servings of fruit and vegetables each day. They can be fresh, frozen, dried or tinned with no added sugar or salt. One serving is roughly one handful or 80g in weight. Try to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables of different colours each day, as they contain different nutrients.

Five servings may sound like a lot, but if you try to include one or two servings in each meal, and choose fruit as snacks, this should be enough. The NHS website has lots of examples of single servings.

Starchy foods

Starchy foods give you energy and help you to feel full for longer, so it’s important to include them in your diet. Aim to have a portion at each mealtime.

Starchy foods include cereals, potatoes, bread, rice, pasta, plantain, sweet potato and yam. Choose wholegrain (for example, whole rolled oats, corn, quinoa, granary bread, brown rice) and other high-fibre options (for example, potatoes with their skins on, pulses and beans) where possible. As a general rule, a portion of starchy food is about the size of your fist.

Protein-rich foods

Foods high in protein include beans, pulses, fish, eggs and meat. Aim to have 2-3 portions of protein a day.

Try to eat no more than 500g of cooked red meat (700g to 750g before cooking) a week. And avoid processed meat and meat cooked at very high temperatures, as this can increase your risk of bowel and stomach cancer. Red meat includes beef, pork and lamb. Processed meat is meat that has been preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or with preservatives. It includes ham, bacon and some sausages (for example, hot dogs, salami and pepperoni, but not plain sausages from a butcher).

You could choose white meat such as chicken with the skin removed or fish instead. Or you could eat beans, peas or lentils, which are lower in fat and higher in fibre than meat.

Dairy and dairy alternatives

Dairy foods are high in calcium. Calcium is important for strong bones and your overall health, so you need some in your diet – around 700mg per day. Some studies suggest that eating a lot of calcium might increase the risk of your prostate cancer growing and spreading. Other studies have found no link, but it may be an idea to avoid eating more than 2000mg of calcium – the amount in about 1.6 litres of milk – a day.

If you’re on hormone therapy, you’ll need extra calcium to protect your bones. This is because hormone therapy can cause bone thinning, which means your bones are more likely to break if you fall over. Men on hormone therapy should aim for 1200-1500mg of calcium (about 2-3 portions of dairy) each day. This is still a safe amount.

Choose low-fat options such as skimmed or semi-skimmed milk and reduced-fat cheese. There have been some studies that suggest high-fat dairy foods might increase the risk of your prostate cancer growing and spreading, but others have found no link.

Non-dairy sources of calcium include soya products with added calcium such as soya milk and yoghurt, green leafy vegetables, and fish where you eat the bones.

If you don’t think there’s enough calcium in your diet, speak to your doctor or nurse about taking calcium supplements.

How much calcium is there in different foods?

  • Semi-skimmed milk (200ml) – 245mg of calcium
  • Plain low-fat yoghurt (150g) – 245mg of calcium
  • Cheddar cheese (30g) – 205mg of calcium
  • Tinned sardines with bones (100g) – 500mg of calcium
  • Kale (95g) – 145mg of calcium
  • Tofu (100g) – 110mg of calcium
  • Kidney beans (60g) – 45mg of calcium
  • Broccoli (85g) – 35mg of calcium
  • Non-dairy alternatives, such as soya milk – varies, choose one with added calcium.

High-fat foods

You need to eat some fat for your body to function properly. But eating too much fat can make you put on weight, which raises your risk of being diagnosed with aggressive or advanced prostate cancer. There are also different types of fat – saturated fat and unsaturated fat. Unsaturated fats are thought to be healthier than saturated fats.

Unsaturated fats are found in plant foods such as olive oil, vegetable oils, rapeseed oil, avocados, nuts and seeds, and in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines.

Saturated fats are found in meat, cakes, biscuits, pastries, butter, and high-fat dairy products such as cheese.

Replacing animal fats with vegetable oils may help men with prostate cancer to live for longer. There is also some research that suggests eating lots of saturated fat might be linked with an increased risk of prostate cancer coming back after surgery, and of developing advanced prostate cancer. But we need more research to know for sure whether this is the case, as other studies haven’t found a link.

Ways to eat less total fat and saturated fat

  • Choose tomato-based sauces instead of creamy ones.
  • Replace fatty snacks, such as crisps and biscuits, with healthier options such as fruit.
  • Avoid sausages, burgers and processed meat such as ham and bacon.
  • Eat less red meat and remove any visible fat. Try eating chicken or fish instead.
  • Remove any skin from chicken or turkey. The skin contains lots of saturated fat.
  • Add less oil, butter or other cooking fats when you cook.
  • Grill, bake or steam food instead of frying.
  • Choose rapeseed oil for cooking and olive oil for salad dressings.
  • Eat healthy fats from plant foods, such as avocados, nuts and seeds.
  • Choose low-fat or fat-free milk, cheese and yoghurt, or use soya milk, rice milk or oat milk instead of dairy products.

Watch our short film and join David as he takes part in a healthy cooking course, run by Focus on Food, Dean Clough Foundation and Prostate Cancer UK.

  1. Eat three meals a day. If you don’t feel hungry or you have difficulty eating, try to eat small amounts often instead. If you’re struggling to eat because of nausea (feeling sick), try to avoid smelly foods. Cold foods tend to smell less, or it may help if someone cooks for you.
  2. Include all the food groups. The NHS website has information about the proportions you should include in your diet to get the right balance of nutrients.
  3. Eat at least five servings of fruit and vegetables each day.
  4. Base your meals on starchy foods.
  5. Eat a variety of foods high in protein.
  6. Eat some dairy foods or non-dairy sources of calcium.
  7. Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and eat these in small amounts.
  8. Eat less sugar. Sugary foods include cakes, biscuits, puddings and sugary drinks.
  9. Cut down on salt. Eat less than 6g of salt each day. Check the labels and look out for hidden salt in processed foods, such as bread, cereals, bacon and takeaways. Avoid adding salt when you cook – try using herbs and spices to add flavour instead, or use low-salt alternatives.
  10. Drink lots of fluids. Try to drink around 1.5 to 2 litres (3 to 4 pints) a day, which is about 6 to 8 glasses. Avoid drinking late in the evening and drinks containing caffeine (such as tea, coffee and cola) if you have urinary problems.

Where can I find healthy recipes?

It's always best to speak to your doctor or a dietitian before changing your diet. Depending on your situation, the treatment you've had and your general health, you may need to eat more or less of certain foods.

Unless your doctor or dietitian recommends a specific diet, it's best to have a healthy and balanced diet. Healthy recipes are available from:

You can find information on how much of what you eat should come from each food group, as well as examples or portion sizes at:

What type of physical activity should I do?

The type of physical activity you do isn’t really important – the main thing is to get active. If you find an activity you enjoy that fits into your life, you’re more likely to keep doing it. The following tips may help.

  • Walking, swimming, cycling and gardening are all good exercise.
  • You can do simple things, such as getting off the bus one stop earlier, or using stairs rather than a lift.
  • You can even exercise from your chair or bed. Lifting and stretching your arms and legs can help improve your movement and muscle strength. Visit the NHS website for exercises to do while sitting down.
  • If you’re trying to be more active, an exercise programme such as walking 10,000 steps a day can be useful. You might not manage this at first – just do what you can, and try to walk a little further each day. Visit the NHS website to find out more.
  • Gentle resistance exercise, such as lifting light weights or using elastic resistance bands, is particularly good if you’re on hormone therapy and are at risk of bone thinning.
  • Try a variety of activities or sports so that you don’t get bored, and set some goals to aim for. You may prefer to exercise with a friend or in a group.

How much physical activity should I do?

This will depend on many things, including the stage of your cancer, any treatments you're having, and your fitness levels. Even if you can’t do a lot of physical activity, a small amount can still help. Take things at your own pace and don’t do too much. Make sure you rest when you feel you need to.

Aim to be physically active at least two to three times a week. If you're not usually active, start gently for short periods of time, such as 10 to 15 minutes, and gradually exercise for longer as you become fitter. If you can, work up to 30 minutes of moderate exercise on three to five days a week.

Moderate exercise means your heart should beat faster but you should still be able to talk – about the level of a brisk walk. 30 minutes may seem like a lot, but remember you can reach this amount by being active for 10 minutes, three times a day.

It’s usually safe for men with prostate cancer and those having treatment to be physically active. But it's still a good idea to speak to your GP, nurse or hospital doctor before you start any kind of exercise plan. This is particularly important if you have other health problems, such as heart disease or problems with your joints or muscles. They can talk to you about exercising safely and may refer you to an exercise programme or a physiotherapist who can help you plan your exercise.

If you’re on hormone therapy or have cancer that has spread to the bones, check with your doctor before doing high-impact exercises such as running and contact sports.

Can I exercise after surgery?

If you’re having surgery to remove your prostate, you’ll need to take it easy for the first few weeks after your operation. Your surgeon may suggest taking a short walk each day, starting on the day after your operation. It's important to only do light and gentle exercise so that your body has time to heal properly.

You should avoid any heavy physical exercise for the first four to six weeks. If possible, avoid climbing lots of stairs, lifting heavy objects or doing manual work during this time. Talk to your doctor or nurse about what's safe for you and when.

  • Be careful to avoid activities where you could fall, especially if you’re on hormone therapy or your cancer has spread to the bones, as you're more likely to break a bone if you fall.
  • Wear clothing and trainers that fit properly and don’t exercise on uneven surfaces, to avoid tripping over.
  • Make sure you drink enough water.
  • Don’t exercise if you feel unwell, or have any pain, sickness or other unusual symptoms. Stop if you get any of these while exercising.
  • If you’re having radiotherapy and have any skin irritation, avoid swimming pools as chlorine can make this worse.
  • If you're overweight or have heart problems, check what type of exercise is safe for you with your doctor or nurse.

Find out more ways you can be active.

How can a healthy lifestyle help with side effects of treatment?

All treatments for prostate cancer can cause side effects. There are treatments available to help manage these, and diet and physical activity can often help too.

Weight gain

Some men put on weight while they are on hormone therapy, particularly around the waist. Being active and eating well can help. But if you’re struggling to lose weight, ask your doctor to refer you to a dietitian or weight-loss programme.

Heart disease and diabetes

Hormone therapy may increase your risk of heart disease and type-2 diabetes. A healthy diet and being active can help prevent them.

Bone thinning

Being on hormone therapy for a long time can gradually make your bones weaker. This is known as bone thinning. It can lead to a condition called osteoporosis, where the bones become weak and are more likely to break (fracture). A number of lifestyle changes may help to keep your bones healthy.

Calcium and vitamin D are important for strong bones. Most of your vitamin D is made inside the body when your skin is exposed to sunlight. But it can be difficult for your body to make enough vitamin D from sunlight alone, especially in winter. You can also get vitamin D from eating oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, or foods with added vitamin D, like margarine and some breakfast cereals. You may need to take calcium and vitamin D supplements to help lower your risk of bone thinning – speak to your doctor about this.

Drinking a lot of alcohol and smoking can both raise your risk of bone thinning or osteoporosis.

We don’t yet know whether exercise can help to prevent bone thinning in men who are on hormone therapy. But regular physical activity could help to keep you strong and prevent falls that could cause broken bones. These types of exercises may be particularly helpful:

  • gentle resistance exercise, such as lifting light weights or using elastic resistance bands
  • weight-bearing exercise, where you’re standing up and have to support your own weight, such as walking, climbing stairs, tennis and dancing.

Strength and muscle loss

Hormone therapy can cause a loss of muscle tissue so that you feel less physically strong. Regular, gentle resistance exercise, such as lifting light weights, can help with muscle loss and keep your muscles strong.

Hot flushes

Hot flushes are a common side effect of hormone therapy. Staying a healthy weight may help you manage hot flushes. Try to cut down on spicy foods, alcohol and drinks that contain caffeine, such as tea and coffee.

Some men use herbal remedies to help manage their hot flushes, such as sage tea or supplements containing black cohosh. There is no scientific evidence that these are effective and some, including black cohosh, may be harmful. Speak to your doctor before taking any herbal remedies.

Extreme tiredness (fatigue)

Some treatments for prostate cancer, including hormone therapy, radiotherapy and chemotherapy, can cause extreme tiredness. Light to moderate exercise, such as walking or swimming, can make you feel more awake. And doing this type of exercise along with strength training, such as lifting light weights, may be even more effective.

We have lots of information on fatigue on our website, as well as an interactive online guide with tips to help you manage fatigue. You might also want to try our Specialist Nurse-led fatigue support service, which can help you make lifestyle changes that should improve your fatigue over time.

Anxiety and depression

Many men with prostate cancer feel anxious and worried at times. If your mood is often very low or your sleep pattern or appetite has changed a lot, this could be a sign of depression. Some treatments for prostate cancer, such as hormone therapy and chemotherapy, can also cause depression and mood swings.

Regular physical activity can often help you deal with feelings of anxiety and depression and improve your day to day life. Learning ways to relax, such as yoga or meditation, might also help.

Bowel problems

If you’re having radiotherapy, you may get bowel problems during and after treatment. These might include loose and watery bowel movements (diarrhoea). Eating less fibre for a short time might help with this, although the evidence for this isn’t very strong.

High-fibre foods to avoid include fruits and vegetables. Stick with low-fibre foods which include white rice, pasta and bread, potatoes without the skins, cornmeal, eggs and lean white meat. Make sure you drink lots of water to replace the liquid your body is losing.

If you find you’re bloated or passing more wind than usual, there are certain foods you can try avoiding. These include beans, pulses, cruciferous vegetables (for example, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower), onions, fizzy drinks and beer. Some people find that adding certain herbs or spices to their cooking, such as ginger, peppermint or dill, can help as well.

If you’re taking pain-relieving tablets, these can cause constipation (difficulty having a bowel movement). Try to drink lots of fluids – aim for about two litres (eight glasses) a day. If you don’t want to drink water, you could have other drinks such as squash with no added sugar, or decaffeinated tea and coffee. Or you could flavour your water, for example with cucumber or fresh mint. Some men find drinking warm or hot water a few times a day helps. And eat high-fibre foods such as wholemeal bread, porridge and fruits, including prunes in particular.

Gentle exercise may also help with constipation. If things don’t improve, speak to your doctor. They may give you a medicine called a laxative to help empty your bowels.

Urinary problems

Some treatments for prostate cancer can cause difficulty urinating (peeing). Making some changes to your lifestyle could help. Try to drink plenty of fluids – 1.5 to 2 litres (3 to 4 pints) a day. But cut down on fizzy drinks, alcohol and drinks that contain caffeine – like tea, coffee and cola – as these can irritate the bladder. And avoid drinking a lot late in the day to avoid having to get up in the night.

Try to be active and stay a healthy weight, and avoid constipation as this puts pressure on the pelvic floor muscles and bladder, making urinary problems worse. If you smoke, try to stop because coughing also puts pressure on the pelvic floor muscles.

For more information on ways to manage urinary problems, take a look at our interactive online guide to managing urinary problems.

Changes to your sex life

Lifestyle changes, such as staying a healthy weight and being physically active, can help improve your sex life. Hormone therapy, for example, can cause changes to your sex life, including problems getting an erection and loss of desire for sex (low libido). But regular exercise may help you to feel more desire for sex, improve your self-esteem and give you more energy.

Read more about sex and relationships. We also have lots of tips in our interactive online guide to sex and relationships.

Questions to ask your doctor or nurse

  • Are there any foods or supplements I should avoid during my treatment?
  • Are there any foods or supplements that might help with my side effects?
  • Are there any complementary therapies I should avoid with my treatment?
  • Are there any types of physical activity that would be particularly good for me?
  • Are there any types of physical activity I should avoid?
  • Are there any activity groups I can join?
  • What other support is available?

Reviewers and references

Last updated: June 2018
To be reviewed: June 2020
  • Miranda Benney, Macmillan Uro-oncology Clinical Nurse Specialist, Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust
  • Rachel Bracegirdle, Oncology Dietitian, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, London
  • Simon Brewster, Consultant Urologist, Churchill Hospital, Oxford
  • Frank Chinegwundoh, Consultant Urological Surgeon, Barts Health NHS Trust
  • Jo Pain, Macmillan Specialist Community Dietitian, Gloucestershire Care Services NHS Trust
  • Nona Toothill, Urology Clinical Nurse Specialist, Airedale NHS Foundation Trust
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