Have you heard about how exercise and ADT should go together like sausages and bread? Research has shown exercise can help to reduce side effects of this treatment (without influencing the effectiveness of the drug). Prostate cancer, unfortunately, needs male hormones (androgens such as testosterone) to thrive, so one of the main types of drug therapy for this disease is androgen deprivation therapy (ADT). These medications aim to reduce or block the effect these hormones have. Whilst it can be an effective treatment, reducing the amount of testosterone in a man’s body does have a significant impact in the form of confronting side effects such as weight gain, loss of muscle mass and menopause-like symptoms. Here is a look at 6 different ways exercise can help you deal with treatment side effects:
1. Exercise and ADT: Improving body composition whilst on ADT
As a typical side of effect of ADT, men may notice an increase in abdominal fat and reduction of your muscle mass. However, did you know that exercise can lessen the change in your body composition? Research shows that if men complete 2-3 sessions of progressive resistance training per week, they will minimise the loss in muscle mass and strength. If men were taking ADT for a short time (3 months), a combination of moderate to high intensity aerobic and resistance training will help prevent changes in fat mass. However, if men are using ADT over a long period of time, they will have to also make changes with their diet to see changes in your fat mass.
2. ADT can impact your strength and endurance: Exercise can help!
ADT and the lack of testosterone can impact their day-to-day capacity/endurance and as such can affect their ability to do the fun things in life (playing with grandchildren, working in the shed, catching up with friends etc). The great news is exercise can help! Whilst it is not new that exercise can help keep everyone feeling fit and capable, the interesting thing is that the sooner men start/continue once ADT is commenced, the less ADT related capacity you stand to lose.
3. ADT can lead to excessive fatigue, but did you know exercise is one of the best treatments?
Due to the decline in androgen production (ie: testosterone) and other cancer-related issues, men may notice an increase in their fatigue levels. This may mean they do not feel as able or motivated to live life as they used to. Whilst it may be counterintuitive, research shows that progressive exercise (building up to 150mins per week) is arguably the BEST medical management strategy to reduce fatigue. That being said, it is important to learn how to regulate how much they do depending on how they feel. One day they may find the walk to the letterbox is moderately hard, whereas another day they may be able to complete a full 30 min moderate intensity brisk walk. Interestingly, the higher the fatigue levels, the greater the benefits from exercising.
4. Keeping the bones strong is really important when on ADT
Another side effect of ADT is a possible reduction in bone mineral density (and may even lead to osteoporosis and bone fractures). Preliminary research shows that at least 2 sessions of resistance training per week can mitigate losses in bone density. However, this exercise needs to be reasonably heavy and “impact” the bone – we want to challenge the bone enough to increase its density. We recommend that exercise is slowly progressed to this impact exercise so as not to increase the risk of injury.
5. Exercise can reduce your risk of other diseases whilst on ADT
Men are already dealing with a lot thanks to a prostate cancer diagnosis. SO it is important to note that due to the changes in hormone levels and a combination of other factors, there is an increased risk of developing other metabolic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure in men on ADT. There is preliminary research showing positive changes in blood sugar, cholesterol and triglyceride levels. In other cancer populations, they have shown that exercise can provide a protective effect against the cardiometabolic diseases. So to reduce the burden, get on your bike!
6. Other side effects from ADT can be impacted by exercise
There are a few other benefits, which are fantastic for men on ADT! Did you know that new evidence suggests that exercise may help to preserve sexual activity and libido and lessen declines in sexual function? It may improve mood and reduce psychological distress, anxiety and depression. Finally, observational data suggests that is may even reduce the risk of dying from prostate cancer and even improve overall lifespan. If we could put all these benefits into a pill, would you take it?
The when, where and how of exercise for men undergoing ADT?
For many men, they are not exactly sure where to start, so here are a few ways:
- You can visit an accredited exercise physiologist who specialises in treating those with cancer who can set you up with an individualized program. This will help give you the tools and knowledge to exercise and get the benefits from it.
- There are a few online programs that can guide you if you do not want to or do not have the resources to visit an exercise specialist. Check out online!
- If you are comfortable exercising on your own, you can get straight into it. Much of the literature prescribes 2-3 resistance training exercise sessions per week plus building up to 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise per week (but remember that you do not want to go to hard to quickly – building up is the best way!)