Exercise for Prostate Cancer Survivors

Exercise for Prostate Cancer Survivors

How to Get into a Routine and Stick with It

by Amanda J. Palmeri, PT, DPT

The side effects of prostate cancer treatment can have a significant impact on your daily life. Routine activities such as grocery shopping, taking the dog for a walk, or climbing stairs can be challenging due to treatment-related muscle weakness, fatigue, and pain. If you’re experiencing urinary incontinence resulting from prostate surgery, you may avoid leaving your home and interacting with others. Similarly, treatment-related erectile dysfunction can reduce your self-confidence and negatively affect your relationships. Fortunately, many of these issues improve over time. What’s more, research has shown that maintaining a consistent exercise routine during and after cancer treatment can speed up the process, helping you regain adequate functioning and the quality of life you deserve.

The Benefits  Exercise is known to improve cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, flexibility, mood, and overall quality of life. Exercise can also help manage treatment-related side effects, such as nausea, fatigue, pain, weakness, weight gain, and sleep disturbances, as well as psychological issues, like depression, anxiety, and poor body image. These benefits are consistent after prostate cancer surgery, as well as during chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

General Recommendations  For the general population, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM.org) recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, including two days of resistance training, per week. However, emerging research on exercise for prostate cancer survivors may support a regimen of 75 minutes per week of more vigorous intensity exercise with an emphasis on resistance training to improve muscle strength. Some examples of vigorous intensity exercises include brisk walking, running, swimming, playing tennis, and bicycling. 

Starting an exercise routine can be intimidating, but you shouldn’t avoid exercise just because you don’t know where to begin.

If muscles within your pelvis were damaged during prostate surgery, resulting in urinary leakage or erectile dysfunction, you can manage these problems with daily exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. To do these exercises, which are known as Kegels, squeeze your pelvic muscles as you would to stop the passage of gas. Then release these muscles and repeat.

Getting Started  Starting an exercise routine can be intimidating, but you shouldn’t avoid exercise just because you don’t know where to begin. This is where your doctor can help. 

Before beginning any exercise routine, you need to get clearance from your doctor. He or she can also help you develop an appropriate exercise regimen based on your individual needs.

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The most effective exercise programs should be challenging but enjoyable. You may want to ease into an exercise routine with a familiar activity, like walking or bike riding. Don’t worry about reaching the standard 150 minutes of physical activity per week right away. Be patient with yourself. Increase exercise duration at a comfortable pace, and take breaks as needed so you don’t overwork yourself. Remember, when it comes to exercise, it doesn’t matter where you start; the important thing is that you start.

Sticking with It  To help keep yourself on track, you can use a planner to pencil in physical activity to your daily schedule and keep up with your progress. If you’re more tech savvy, you may choose instead to track your progress with a smartphone app that can also remind you to exercise each day. 

Exercising with a partner or a group can help keep you accountable and make you more likely to stick to the program, so recruit a friend or family member to join you. Your exercise buddies can also provide motivation, or even a healthy dose of competition. 

Another way to give yourself the push you need to stick with an exercise routine is to set goals. Your doctor can help you develop appropriate exercise guidelines to achieve your goals. As you meet these goals, reward yourself and acknowledge how far you’ve come. Whether you aspire to get back into a sport or activity, dance at a family member’s wedding, or participate in a survivorship walk, meeting your goals will motivate you to progress even further. 

Amanda Palmeri is a physical therapist in cancer rehabilitation at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York, NY.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, January/February 2019.