This section is about physical fitness and how to develop an exercise routine that suits you and that will get you fit in preparation for your prostate surgery and its aftermath.
Exercises to promote wellness
There are three kinds of exercise:
- Exercises to promote stamina and fitness. These are sometimes known as Cardio or Aerobic Training.
- Exercises for body building and increasing strength. These are sometimes known as Resistance Training.
- Exercises to promote stability and agility.
Interestingly, although body builders may have huge muscles which can look impressive, they are often remarkably unfit. This is because they focus on body building sometimes to the exclusion of other types of physical activity. What’s important isn’t building a perfect ‘six pack’ with a huge chest and biceps. What’s important is improving your balance and agility, your strength and your stamina and making your heart and lungs work more efficiently.
If this all sounds rather daunting and/or you haven’t done much or any exercise for a long time don’t worry. There are lots of men in the same situation. I was. But I got there and you can too.
My exercise routine
Here is an outline of the routine I developed for myself. This helped me get fit before my prostate surgery and lose around 18 kilos (40 lbs). There’s a video of me doing my routine here.
Step 1: The warmup
You should never go into an exercise routine without doing some kind of stretching and warmup exercises. The warmup prepares your body for being active and helps prevent prevent muscle damage. In the same way, always have a cooling down period of gentle exercises and stretching at the end of your routine.
There are lots of exercises you can use for warming up. Apart from the ones I show you, you can find examples online such as this one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahVdVZfDUzY. You’ll also find routines that aim to give you a mental as well as a physical warmup. These include yoga, pilates, meditation, dancing and many others. So go exploring and find the warmups that work best for you.
My personal preferred warmup is to use the introductory exercises to Tai Chi called Chi Gung (Qi Gung). Essentially this starts from the top of your body and moves down it with neck rolls, shoulder swings and hip and knee rotations followed by some specific exercises. You can see how I do these exercises here (link to video). Of course if you can find a Chi Gung teacher/class that’s the best way of learning.
Tai Chi ‘form’
Next I do the Tai Chi ‘form’. There are different variations of the “form” and different ways of doing it. I do it in a slow, flowing, meditative way which focuses my body and mind. At the same time it helps to improve my balance, agility, strength and stamina. You can see me demonstrating it in the video of my routine. Some people take more of a martial arts approach and others a more mechanistic approach, counting the steps and actions in a more fixed routine. Again there are lots of videos showing the various Tai Chi forms online so have a look when you have a moment.
Step 2: Building your strength and stamina
As I said earlier, to get fit for surgery – and also for recovery – and achieve wellness, we want to develop stamina and core strength rather than big muscles and physical strength. So the goal of your exercise routine is to build up a sweat and maintain it for at least 20 minutes – ideally for around half an hour. Generally, if you’re not sweating you’re not working hard enough!
For me I prefer going to the gym because if I have training equipment at home I find it too easy to ignore. Also I find that exercising at home very soon gets boring. Yes going to the gym is boring too. But if I’ve made the effort to get there then I’ll follow my exercise routines. And I always feel much better for it afterwards. Going to the gym and exercising can definitely be boring. But they’re nothing compared with how boring it is being unwell. Suffering the side effects of medication and losing your vitality are even more boring! Let alone the incontinence and erectile dysfunction that most men experience at least for a while following surgery.
So think of going to the gym as the medicine that you have to take to get well and stay well. Going to the gym means you set aside a particular time for leaving home or work and going somewhere specifically to exercise without distractions. But the gym is boring! Yes it is. And that’s why it’s important to keep varying what you do and not doing the same routine every day. To help improve the incontinence and erectile dysfunction you’ll have following your surgery you particularly need to practise your pelvic floor exercises during your routine. There’s more information about pelvic floor exercises here.
Of course you may decide that you’re really not a gym person or you can’t go to the gym for some reason. If so, there are lots of other things you can do to get fit and improve your strength and stamina which I’ll talk about in a minute. Again, because you’ll want to reduce the level of incontinence and erectile dysfunction that you experience after surgery, make sure that whichever exercise routine you’re doing, you’re including your pelvic floor exercises. You can find out more about exercising your pelvic floor here.
Exercises to improve the strength and efficiency of your heart and lungs are called cardio or aerobic exercises. They get your body going and keep it going. The objective with these exercises is to build up a sweat and ideally maintain that sweating state for at least 30 minutes. Of course if you haven’t exercised for a long time you might find that you can only do a few minutes at a time at first. So your objective is to build up to 30 minutes but trying to do a little more each time.
Because I’m easily bored, I’m always changing my routine. In the gym, there are machines that will help you do this easily such as treadmills, step machines, cycling machines etc. I don’t use any of these because, apart from giving you a cardio/aerobic workout, they mainly exercise your legs. I prefer something that gets my whole body working at the same time so I use the rowing machines, cross trainers and the advanced wave machines which move the arms and legs simultaneously.
And if you’re not a gym sort of person or you can’t get to the gym for whatever reason?
Anything that gets your heart rate up and gets you sweating! My suggestions are below but you might prefer to do something like zumba or salsa dancing or you might be a cyclist.
Swimming is an excellent way of getting your whole body working at the same time and building up your stamina. But as with all exercises, swimming up and down at a nice easy pace, whilst better than nothing doesn’t do much to build your fitness. To increase your stamina and strength you need to keep your body under stress. Make sure you’re panting and a little out of breath (not gasping for air though). And that your heart rate is higher than normal (although not pounding away in your chest).
Again you need to walk briskly and/or uphill to build up a sweat and increase your heart rate.
These are popular ways of building and maintaining this type of fitness. But make sure you wear appropriate shoes to help prevent damage to your joints. Ideally stay off hard surfaces like pavements and roads. Some people alternate walking with jogging doing each one for a few minutes.
Another popular form of exercise which provides variety is called ‘interval training’. It involves bursts of intense activity alternating with a more relaxed pace. So find a long incline near you and walk, jog, run or cycle uphill as fast as you can and then go back downhill at a slower pace. Repeat this for 30 minutes making sure that you’re sweating by the time you get to the top of the incline.
Climbing stairs is an excellent form of exercise. Ideally find somewhere with several flights such as you find in a multi-storey building, car park etc. Climb them as fast as you can as many times as you can. Your goal should be to be able to climb briskly for at least 30 minutes. When you’ve got really good at this try taking two steps at a time!
You can find more information about aerobic exercise and its benefits here.
Exercises to build up your physical strength are called resistance exercises. I usually do these after the cardio exercises when I’m sweaty and panting and need a period of low intensity exercises. You can use weights. Anything that’s heavy enough for you to have to make a significant effort to lift. If I’m not at the gym I sometimes use large bottles of water. And if you’re a gym person you can use the resistance machines. Or you can do press ups, abdominal crunches, squats etc. These are what I do because they put the abdominal and pelvic floor muscles under the greatest stress and these are the most important areas to strengthen if you’re going to have prostate surgery.
Next I use some of the other exercise machines as part of my general workout varying them day by day to prevent boredom setting in. They include leg curls and extensions, bicep and tricep rolls and other upper body exercises.
Step 3: The cooldown
The cooldown helps your body to get rid of the lactic acid that builds up when you’re exercising. It’s lactic acid which makes you stiff and sore the next day or the day after that. So if you can eliminate it from your body as well as you can you’ll probably suffer less from soreness and stiffness.
I’ve already referred to the boredom factor in going to the gym so I don’t do the same cooldown routine every time. To some extent what I do in my cooldown varies depending on what I’ve already done during my exercise routine.
I usually include floor exercises, exercises to improve my ‘core’ strength and then finish off with the Chi Gung routine described above.
You can see my cool-down routine in the video of my routine
The routine goes something like this:
1. Floor exercises including:
– leg raises
– back stretches
– step ups
– squatting on the floor (both inward and outward)
– press ups
– tricep lifts
– abdominal lifts
– weightlifting (from the floor and across)
2. Core strength exercises including:
– the plank
– hands and knees alternating
– sideways stress.
3. The cooldown exercises:
These are exactly the same as the Chi Gung warm up exercises described above, and they take the form of progressing from the top to the lower part of the body with neck rolls, shoulder swings, hip rotations, knee rotations followed by some specific exercises. I demonstrate these in the video of my exercise routine.