By: Dan Sperling, MD
Energetic walking during the day and good sleep at night may be beneficial in preventing prostate cancer. If you find yourself wondering how, you’re not alone, because the connection isn’t obvious. Common wisdom suggests that prostate cancer patients who embrace healthy nutrition, regular exercise, and stress management generally do better than those who don’t, but the reasons are not always clear.
With regard to vigorous walking, a group of scientists at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) analyzed tumor samples from 572 prostate cancer patients.[i] Exercise data from each patient’s prediagnostic questionnaires was correlated with the shape of blood vessels contained in the tumor samples. The researchers found that those who reported a regular program of brisk walking had more circular-shaped blood vessel walls than those who did not, meaning they were more like normal blood vessels than those associated with tumor activity. Why is this important? “Prior research has shown that men with prostate tumors containing more regularly shaped blood vessels have a more favorable prognosis compared with men with prostate tumors containing mostly irregularly shaped blood vessels,” said Erin Van Blarigan, Sc.D., assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at UCSF.
Another unexpected revelation has to do with a connection between melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone, and reducing the risk of prostate cancer. A small gland within the brain produces melatonin when triggered by darkness, and it brings on drowsiness and a drop in body temperature, signaling that it’s time to sleep. As people age, the level of production may begin to diminish. A recent study of Icelandic men found an association between low levels of melatonin and increased prostate cancer risk, including advanced prostate cancer.[ii] Even disrupted sleep can affect melatonin levels, in addition to affecting overall physical and psychological health.
The good news is that regular, energetic walking will contribute to better daytime energy and better sleep at night. Thus, your prostate health will benefit from both your exercise program and your good night’s sleep.