Physical activity and weight

Being active and keeping a healthy weight can help you to feel better during and after treatment for prostate cancer. It can also help to lower your risk of other conditions.

Weight and prostate cancer

Keeping a healthy weight can help you to feel better. 

Researchers are looking into how weight affects prostate cancer including whether being overweight can increase the risk of prostate cancer coming back. 

It's not known whether men who are overweight at diagnosis will definitely reduce the risk of their prostate cancer coming back by losing weight. 

But men who are overweight or obese should try to lose weight because:

  • it can help them to feel better
  • it can also reduce the risk of heart problems, men who have had prostate cancer are at higher risk of heart problems

You can find out whether your weight is within the healthy range by working out your body mass index, or BMI. Or you could measure your waist.

If you are underweight and struggling to put on weight, you should ask for specific advice from your doctor or dietitian.

How to aim for a healthy weight

Eating a healthy well balanced diet and being active will help you to work towards, or maintain, a healthy weight.

Coping with cancer and its treatment can be difficult.  It may be hard to think about making changes to your diet or becoming more active. Talk to your nurse, doctor or dietitian if you need help and support. They can help you to set realistic, safe goals that you are able to achieve.

For some men, a realistic goal may be to lose a certain amount of weight, rather than to achieve their ideal body weight or BMI.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t always lose the weight you want to. Even some weight loss can help improve the way you feel and has health benefits.

How being active helps

Being active is safe and possible for many people with cancer. This is both during and after treatment. It might also be able to help recovery by relieving some side effects.

Being active may also help men who have had prostate cancer to live longer. One study found that men who exercise live longer than those that don’t.  The men who were active had a reduced risk of dying from prostate cancer, or dying due to other reasons. The men who took part in this research did either moderate or more vigorous activity. 

The researchers suggest that a moderate amount of activity for at least 3 hours per week may reduce the risk of prostate cancer coming back.

We need more research to be sure that being physically active does help men to live longer.

What being active means

There are no specific UK exercise guidelines for men with prostate cancer. Doctors recommend that men should follow the Department of Health general activity guidelines.

These recommend that all adults should aim for at least one of the following:

  • 2 ½ hours of moderate activity every week
  • 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity spread across the week
  • a combination of both moderate and intensive

This can be spread over the week and split into 10 minute periods or longer, depending on what amount of activity you’re used to.

Speak to your doctor or physiotherapist if you have one. Ask about a level of activity that is safe and realistic for you. 

Moderate exercise includes activities such as brisk walking or pushing a lawn mower. During moderate exercise:

  • you should feel slightly breathless, but still be able to talk and finish a sentence
  • your heart beat should increase
  • you may break into a sweat

Vigorous exercise includes running or jogging, or energetic dancing.

Doing more vigorous activity means that you are breathing quite hard and fast. You will probably only be able to say a few words before stopping to take a breath.

The guidelines also advise that adults should do some sort of activity to improve muscle strength on at least 2 days of the week. This can involve working against a resistance, such as lifting heavy shopping. Or using your own body weight to exercise, such as stepping and jumping when dancing.

Before you start

Before you start any physical activity talk to your doctor or specialist nurse.

What is safe for you to do will depend on:

  • your general level of fitness
  • other medical conditions you have
  • how recently you have had treatment

Your doctor or nurse may be able to refer you to a physiotherapist for a specific exercise programme.

The amount you should do depends on your level of fitness. If you have not been physically active, you need to build up gradually.

Being physically active doesn’t mean you have to join a gym. You can build it into your day, doing this can help you stay active.

  • Start slowly if you have been inactive
  • Cut down on the time that you spend sitting down
  • Stand up regularly, do a job round the house, walk round your house or garden
  • At work, go and see a colleague at their desk instead of emailing them or take a longer route to the printer
  • Get off the bus 1 stop early and walking the rest of the journey
  • Walk up the stairs instead of taking the lift
  • Go for a walk with friends or join a local walking group

If you are able, you should try to build up to 30 minutes of physical activity 5 times a week. Remember, you can split the 30 minutes into three 10 minute sessions if you want to. Gentle swimming or walking is fine for just about everyone. Some people find exercise more enjoyable and easier to do if they do it with another person, or as part of a group.

Ask your doctor, nurse or physiotherapist if you:

  • are unsure what you should be doing
  • aren’t used to exercising
  • want to do more vigorous exercise

When to ask for advice

You may need to be cautious and ask for advice if you have other health conditions.

For example, if you have cancer affecting your bones. Cancer in the bones can weaken them and make you more at risk of a break or fracture, especially if you put too much strain on them. It’s still a good thing to do weight bearing exercises, like walking and dancing if you can. But before you start, ask your doctor to refer you to a physiotherapist for a specific advice.

Water based exercise puts less stress on your bones so swimming or exercising in water is also something most people can do. This is because water supports your body weight. 

Support available

In some areas there are exercise referral schemes where professionals can support you in making changes to your lifestyle.

Some areas also have Health Trainers or personal trainers who have had specific training in cancer. They can offer support and information about healthy eating, weight loss and psychological wellbeing. 

Ask your GP or hospital doctor what support is available in your area.

Questions you may want to ask your doctor

  • What exercise can I do safely?
  • Can I see a physiotherapist to work out an exercise plan?

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