The Benefits of Weight Training for Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer treatment can include androgen deprivation therapy, blocking testosterone. Can weight training be used to alleviate the side effects of this treatment on muscle strength and bone mass? Researchers put this to the test.

Older man using dumbbells in an exercise class
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Prostate Cancer Hormone Treatment Side Effects

Because the male hormone testosterone seems to cause most prostate cancers to grow, one of the treatments for prostate cancer is the delivery of drugs to stop the body from producing or using testosterone as it normally does. The desired result is a slowing or cessation of cancer growth. The problem with this approach is that without testosterone various unwanted health effects occur: reduced muscle strength and bone mass and increased risk of fractures, increased fat mass and reduced muscle mass, unfavorable cholesterol levels, ​and depression and mood swings.

Can Weight Training Help With Prostate Cancer Treatment Side Effects?

Could weight training prevent some of these symptoms from occurring? That’s what researchers from the School of Exercise, Biomedical and Health Sciences, Edith Cowan University in Western Australia attempted to find out.

They studied 10 men aged 59-82 years old on androgen deprivation for localized prostate cancer. They compared results before and after progressive resistance training for 20 weeks at 6-12-repetition maximum (RM) for 12 upper- and lower-body exercises in a university exercise rehabilitation clinic. The exercises included the chest press, seated row, shoulder press, lat pull-down, triceps extension, biceps curl, leg press, squat, leg extension, leg curl, abdominal crunch, and back-extension exercises.

Results of Weight Training Study

The research team tested the subjects at the beginning of the study, at 10 weeks and at 20 weeks for elements of body composition, strength, exercise performance, and blood parameters. Here is what they found.

  • Body Composition: There were no significant overall changes to body fat, muscle mass or bone mineral density in the group. Note, however, the quadriceps muscle mass improvement noted below.
  • Muscle Strength and Endurance: A significant increase in muscle strength and endurance was noted for the exercises tested for the upper and lower body. Thigh quadriceps muscle size increased significantly — in some subjects up to 15 percent.
  • Exercise Performance: After 20 weeks of training, there was a significant improvement in physical performance in the nominated exercises of chair rise, stair climbing, and walking tests with incremental performance improvements at 10 weeks and up to 20 weeks.
  • Blood Parameters: There were no significant differences in PSA, hormones or hemoglobin blood measurements.

What Do the Results Mean?

The study could have produced more meaningful results had it been a randomized study where two groups were chosen — one group chosen randomly to perform the weight training and another to act as a control group. Nevertheless, the positive aspects of the study are that strength increased and muscle and bone mass did not decrease significantly nor did fat mass increase. These are the crucial factors likely to be adversely affected in hormone depletion treatment, so overall the results are very promising.

Review of Studies of Exercise With Androgen-Deprivation Therapy

A systematic review of ten studies of exercise for men undergoing androgen-deprivation therapy for prostate cancer concluded that aerobic and resistance training had benefits for muscular strength, cardiorespiratory fitness, lean body mass, fatigue, and cardiorespiratory fitness. They didn’t find clear benefits for bone health or cardio risk markers.

The bottom line is that if you do find yourself in such a prostate cancer treatment situation, weight training can probably help you to maintain important elements of physical function and health while undergoing the best treatment as recommended by your specialist.

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  • Galvao DA, Nosaka K, Taaffe DR, Spry N, Kristjanson LJ, McGuigan MR, Suzuki K, Yamaya K, Newton RU. Resistance Training and Reduction of Treatment Side Effects in Prostate Cancer Patients. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2006 Dec;38(12):2045-52.

  • Galvao DA, Taaffe DR, Spry N, Newton RU. Exercise Can Prevent and Even Reverse Adverse Effects of Androgen Suppression Treatment in Men With Prostate Cancer. Prostate Cancer Prostatic Dis. 2007 May 8; [Epub ahead of print]

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