For many cancer survivors, receiving news that they are cancer-free is often accompanied by an ostensibly simple question that could not be more complicated: “What now?” A recent study conducted at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine has found that prostate cancer survivors who walk at an easy pace for three hours each week significantly reduce the damaging side effects caused by their treatment.

"Non-vigorous walking for three hours per week seems to improve the fatigue, depression, and body weight issues that affect many men post-treatment," Siobhan Phillips, a kinesiologist and an assistant professor in the department of preventive medicine at Northwestern University, said in a statement. "If you walk even more briskly, for only 90 minutes a week, you could also see similar benefits in these areas."

Phillips and her colleagues used self-reported data since 1986 on 51,529 men in health professions via the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Researchers focused on prostate cancer survivors who were diagnosed before 2008 and completed a health-related quality of life questionnaire. Symptoms assessed by the questionnaire include urinary and bowel problems, sexual function issues, fatigue, depression, increased body weight and erectile dysfunction.

Participants were asked to report on the average amount of time they spend walking to work, walking for exercise, jogging, running, cycling, swimming, and playing sports each week. They were also asked to rate their normal outdoor walking pace as easy, average, brisk, or vey brisk. Men who recorded a longer amount of time spent on non-vigorous, walking activity, such as brisk walking, were able to manage symptoms associated with prostate cancer survival, including fatigue, depression, and body weight.

"This study shows that you don't have to engage in high-impact, vigorous activities to improve your quality of life after a prostate cancer diagnosis," Phillips said. "Since many prostate cancer survivors might find vigorous activities hard to stick with, the good news is that simply focusing on walking more may be enough to make them feel better."

According to the American Cancer Society, prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among men. Although around one out of every seven men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in his life, it is considered a very survivable form of cancer. More than 2.9 million men in the United States who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer are currently still alive.

"Cancer survivors have a higher risk of other conditions, such as cardiovascular disease," Phillips said. "Walking may also potentially increase survival and impact their quality of life by preventing the onset of those other conditions."

Source: Journal of Cancer Survivorship. 2015.