Can exercise help prostate cancer recovery?

Should you really exercise when you have cancer?

Cancer treatment can make you feel really terrible.  You can experience pain, fatigue, depression, weight gain, muscle loss, foggy brain and lots of other side-effects.  Some days all you want to do is stay in bed, under the doona, feeling miserable.

It is quite common for cancer patients to worry that exercise may make their condition worse.  But should you really take it easy?  Is rest the best way to help you recover?

COSA, which is the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia, recommends that exercise should be embedded as part of standard practice in cancer care.  COSA has even issued a Position Statement on Exercise in Cancer Care.

According to that Position Statement:-

COSA encourages all health professionals involved in the care of people with cancer to:

  • discuss the role of exercise in cancer recovery;
  • recommend their patients adhere to exercise guidelines (avoid inactivity and progress towards at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise and two to three moderate intensity resistance exercise sessions each week); and
  • refer their patients to a health professional who specialises in the prescription and delivery of exercise (i.e., accredited exercise physiologist or physiotherapist with experience in cancer care).

How does exercise help?

According to Movement Against Cancer:-

The advantages of physical activity for people with cancer reported in research are wide and varied, and include:

  • Enhanced energy levels
  • Improved physical function
  • Increased strength and muscle mass
  • Improved balance and reduced risk of falls
  • Improved sleep
  • Enhanced quality of life
  • Maintained bone density
  • Decreased body fat
  • Reduced risk of other chronic disease (such as heart disease and diabetes)
  • Reduced anxiety and depression
  • Non-exacerbation of lymphoedema
  • Improved survival rates after diagnosis (for breast, colon and prostate cancer)

After Alan had his prostate surgery, he went to see our local Accredited Exercise Physiologists to get himself back into physical activity.  He found that the exercise helped clear his mind and improved his mental outlook.  Alan also experienced an increase in his libido and overall interest in being intimate with me.  Definitely a winning strategy, from my perspective.

What do the experts say?

Head and shoulders photo of man in grey suit wearing a tie and glasses

Professor Daniel Galvão, Director of the Exercise Medicine Research Institute and Professor in the School of Medical and Health Sciences at Edith Cowan University, Perth, has researched exercise for cancer recovery for many years.

A recent study by Professor Galvão showed that exercise, in the form of supervised resistance and aerobic exercises, improved erectile function and intercourse satisfaction in men with prostate cancer!

An earlier study by the Professor looked at resistance exercise in men receiving androgen deprivation therapy for prostate cancer.  He has recently received funding to study the effects of exercise on men undergoing radiotherapy for prostate cancer.

Really, the best exercise is one that you have tailored to your particular needs and abilities.  As recommended by COSA, there are specialists who can prescribe and deliver exercise for cancer patients.

The exercise program that Alan and I have been following (under the watchful supervision of Accredited Exercise Physiologists) consists of resistance and aerobic activities.  We go to the gym once a week and have a prescribed home exercise program as well.  We are also encouraged to walk for at least 30 minutes several days a week, if possible.

How should I start a new exercise program?

First, we would encourage you to visit your doctor (or specialist).  You can discuss any concerns that you have with them and they can give you a referral to an Accredited Exercise Physiologist.

You may also be eligible under the Medicare scheme known as the Chronic Disease Management Plan.  This is something else that you can discuss with your GP.  The CDM plan qualifies you for rebates for a maximum of 5 visits within a 12-month period for allied health services, including Exercise Physiology.

How can I find a qualified exercise specialist?

Exercise and Sports Science Australia (ESSA) is a professional organisation for tertiary-trained exercise and sports science practitioners.  ESSA offers accreditation to Degree-qualified exercise professionals, such as:

  • Accredited Exercise Scientists (AES) – use exercise to improve health, well-being and fitness
  • Accredited Exercise Physiologists (AEP) – use exercise to help manage chronic conditions, disability and injuries
  • Accredited Sports Scientists (ASpS) – use exercise to improve sporting performance
  • Accredited High Performance Managers (AHPM) – manage a range of performance services for elite sport

The AEPs are the professionals to see for cancer patients (and cancer survivors).

AEPs are university-qualified allied health professionals equipped with the knowledge, skills and competencies to design, deliver and evaluate safe and effective exercise interventions for people with acute, sub-acute or chronic medical conditions, injuries or disabilities.  Pathology domains covered by the services of AEPs include cardiovascular, metabolic, neurological, musculoskeletal, cancers, kidney, respiratory / pulmonary and mental health, and any other conditions for which there is evidence that exercise can improve the client’s clinical status.

When you are ready to get started, you can find your nearest AEP via ESSA’s Search Buddy tool.

What else do I need to know?

One more major benefit to starting a supervised exercise program is companionship.  At the gym where Alan and I go for our weekly program, the staff are wonderful.  The other participants are also lovely.  Because so many of them have also been down a nasty cancer pathway, they are also in recovery mode.  There are no show-offs, no fancy gym gear, no people looking to put you down.

Working out in a small group makes the time really fly.  You get to know your fellow huffers and puffers – we often encourage one another.

If you decide that a gym-style solution is not for you, it can still make good sense to exercise with others.  If you have a group of friends, perhaps you can meet up once or twice a week for a walk, a cycle or a swim.

If you’re not convinced that exercise is for you, it may help to read Alan’s article Self-care & self-esteem.

Three older men running or jogging along path between large trees

I am a life-long exercise avoider!  Alan is the opposite.  Somehow, seeing our AEPs and exercising in a small, supervised group works well for both of us.

So have a chat with your doctor and get started on a new exercise strategy – it can really help.  And let us know how you go.

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