The prostate is can be a troublesome little gland. It is prone to painful infections and inflammation (prostatitis), enlargement that interferes with urination (benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH), and cancer. Prevention is the best medicine, something exercise can help with. Exercise has also been shown to help treat various prostate-related conditions.
Although relatively few studies have looked at the impact of exercise specifically on prostate health, the ones that have suggest that regular physical activity can be good for this walnut-sized gland.
BPH prevention. In the ongoing Harvard-based Health Professionals Follow-up Study, men who were more physically active were less likely to suffer from BPH. Even low- to moderate-intensity physical activity, such as walking regularly at a moderate pace, yielded benefits.
Prostatitis treatment. Italian researchers conducted a randomized controlled trial (considered the gold standard of medical research) in men with chronic prostatitis. Those in the aerobic exercise group walked briskly three times a week. A comparison group did non-aerobic exercise (leg lifts, sit ups, and stretching) three times a week. At the end of 18 weeks, men in both groups felt better, but those doing aerobic exercises reported less prostatitis pain, less anxiety and depression, and better quality of life.
Prostate cancer progression. In a study of more than 1,400 men diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer, men who walked briskly (not leisurely) for at least three hours a week were 57% less likely to have their cancer progress than those who walked less often and less vigorously. In an analysis from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, men diagnosed with localized prostate cancer who engaged in vigorous activity at least three hours each week had a 61% lower chance of dying from the illness, compared to men who engaged in vigorous activity less than one hour a week.
How to get started
A well-rounded exercise program that includes a half-hour of physical activity on all or most days of the week delivers solid health benefits. And you needn't perform this activity all at once; you can break it up into three 10-minute segments.
As always, talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise program. He or she can help you develop a routine based on your health and fitness level.
For more on new options for treating localized and advanced prostate cancer and covering advances in the diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer and related conditions, buy the Annual Report on Prostate Disease, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.