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Stepping out against prostate cancer

A prescription for regular exercise

Karen Miller
Stepping out against prostate cancer

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity each week.

Somehow that message has not come across. In a report by the DHHS, only one in three adults follow the guidelines.

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Yet, if physical activity were proven to be capable of preventing prostate cancer, parks and gyms would be overrun with men trying to get in their daily 30 minutes. Unfortunately, there is no such guarantee, but those 30 minutes can still be of value.

Risk reduction

Several studies suggest that regular physical activity may reduce the risk of prostate cancer. Black men in particular might benefit from exercise but they have to start early in life to reap the rewards. A study published in the journal Cancer discovered that black men who engaged in four or more hours a week of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity between the ages of 19 and 29 had a 35% lower risk of prostate cancer. Decreased risk was noted in other age groups, but to a lesser extent.


Obesity is a probable risk factor of prostate cancer. The American Cancer Society found that men who were overweight increased their risk of prostate cancer by 8%, but obesity was even worse. It almost tripled it to 20%. Severe obesity, which is measured as a BMI of 40 or higher, hiked it even further to 34%.

Physical activity and weight control are good partners and work in sync, but in opposite directions. When the exercise is increased, the body weight tends to decrease.

Impact on treatment

It might be a challenge to exercise during treatment for prostate cancer, but its benefits outweigh the discomfort. For some men, it’s not really an option, especially if undergoing hormone therapy.

Testosterone is the major sex hormone in males. It is necessary for the development of sex organs; it promotes muscle mass and the growth of body hair. But it also stimulates prostate cancer cells to grow. Hormone therapy is often recommended to reduce the levels of testosterone thereby causing prostate cancers to shrink or grow more slowly.

There’s a hitch, though. Hormones also protect against bone loss. Once hormones are blocked, bones become less dense and can break more easily. Osteoporosis is not uncommon. Exercise, especially weight-bearing exercises, such as walking and stair climbing, can increase bone health and strength.

Cancer progression

The third potential impact of physical activity is outcomes, or cancer progression. And all it takes is three hours a week. In one study of 1,400 men diagnosed with early stage prostate cancer, it was found that men who engaged in moderate-intensity walking for at least three hours a week were 57% less likely to have their cancer progress than those who walked casually and less often. In another study, men with localized prostate cancer who engaged in vigorous activity at least three hours a week had a 61% lower chance of dying from the disease.

Kegel: The hidden exercise

Most exercises are clearly visible. You walk from one place to another. You straighten your elbow or bend your knee. But there’s another type of exercise that is invisible. That’s because the muscles are hidden. You might not see them but you know when they’re not working.

The pelvic floor muscles form a type of hammock that extends from the pubic bone in the front to the tailbone. They support the bladder and bowel. Openings from these organs pass through the pelvic floor, and the muscles help keep them shut. In all probability you are unaware of them but you use them all the time. When you “hold it” while racing to the bathroom to prevent an embarrassing accident, you are exercising the pelvic muscles. They also come into play when you cough, sneeze, laugh hard and even exercise.

They play a particularly important role for men who are undergoing treatment for prostate cancer, especially surgery and radiation. Kegel exercises can help manage or prevent leakage of urine and feces. They can even improve sexual function. Generally, the exercises are taught before treatment and are part of after-care.

Initially, you might need training by physical therapy to perfect the technique. The exercises are relatively easy to do once you get the hang of it. You can do them anywhere, any time, and you don’t need equipment.

Tighten your pelvic floor muscles (tighten the muscles you use to keep from passing gas)
Hold for three seconds
Relax for three seconds
Aim for at least three sets of 10 repetitions a day

Just keep stepping

There is no guarantee that you can ward off prostate cancer with a daily walk in the park or a few weight lifts. But regular physical activity improves overall physical and emotional health — both factors to help keep prostate cancer at bay.