BPH

Does Cycling Affect Your Prostate?

The prostate gland, as a topic, unfolds many reactions in men. Most of them do not know precisely what it does.

But they are still afraid of what it may represent in their future. However, it may concern their present to a greater extent.

The prostate gland is an organ located below the bladder, beside the rectum. It embodies a fundamental role in men’s life and health. It secretes fluids into the urethra during orgasm and intervenes in the ejaculation volume.

We usually start to think about the prostate later in life. But what if the practice of a younger man influences prostate health? For example, does cycling harm your prostate?

How men’s prostate health changes with age

This small gland does not remain precisely the same throughout your lifetime. It changes shape, size, and structure many times in each phase of your life and development.

The formation of the urethral tract in embryos and fetuses has been very clearly detailed. The gland has the dimensions of a bean at birth. It grows a bit afterward, but it is only after puberty that it reaches its definite size.

Throughout the life of a man, the prostate gland enlarges with age. The first stage of growth starts at puberty. Then, the growing process triggers the second phase of growth, when men turn thirty years old. Prostate tissues during this period also become thicker and lose firmness.

This is why young males tend to have a firmer and smaller prostate gland. It weighs around 6 grams, depending on the size of the individual. Through the years, it grows heavier, up to 11 grams in 50-year-old males (1,2).

In some cases, the prostate grows as much as to block the flow of urine. This is more common in older adults after age 65 years old. As the prostate surrounds the urethra, the gland clasps and obstructs the urinary system. The first symptom of such a phenomenon is a reduced urine flow. 

Half of the men’s population over their fifties experience this process. It is known as benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH. This is a non-cancerous condition in which the prostate swells, passing from being a little bigger than a golf ball to a tennis ball size, or even larger. For many men, this enlarged prostate also causes irritation and urgency to urinate.

However, in this natural flow of events, we also have to mention a few risk factors. They may influence your prostate health and dictate how soon they start showing up.

Factors that can affect prostate health

It may seem cliché, but diet, exercise, and sleep are the main lifetime factors that affect prostatic health. There are many others, such as age and genetics. But you can’t do anything about that. They are beyond your control. That’s why we are focusing in this article on those risk factors you can change. These are also known as modifiable risk factors.

As for the diet, antioxidant foods are fundamental to keep all of the body healthy, including the prostate. It prevents many pathologies related to the years’ passing, especially those that have to do with free radicals. This fact applies to the prostatic gland, too.

One of the best protective defenses against prostatic aging processes is consuming vegetables. We especially recommend those rich in fatty acids and polyphenols.

These polyphenols are also abundant in many fruits, especially cherries and grapes. You can find them in olives and peanuts, too. They have a protective function in plants and may give you the same benefits for your prostate (3).

The second lifestyle factor we should consider is exercise. Practicing any sport show benefits for all urogenital organs. Going deeply into the evidence, men who frequently exercise, at least six hours per week, have a reduced BHP risk.

Redundantly, the lack of physical activity leads to a bad prostatic condition. The risk of BHP doubles when men remain seated for many hours, no matter if they practiced sports regularly (4).

Additionally, exercise has many benefits for blood vessels, blood flow, and cardiovascular risk. This is where riding a bike plays an important factor. In this regard, it may appear that riding a bike is actually good for your prostate. But it all depends, as you will see further.

As a third lifestyle factor, we can modify sleep habits, which also influence prostatic health. Sleeping soundly can even decrease the risk of prostate cancer. The relationship has to do with melatonin, the sleep-induction hormone (5).

As an extra lifestyle factor, we can also name sexual activity. The prostate gland is a part of the male sexual apparatus as well. So, sexual health behavior is paramount to protect the prostate. However, we should be careful with this argument, and that’s why it’s not listed as one of the main factors.

Sexual promiscuity may be associated with sexually-transmitted diseases. Many of them cause an infection in the urinary tract, which in turn affect the prostate. Chronic prostatitis may become the final stage of this process, affecting the quality of life of thousands of men worldwide. It is worth noting that, unlike BPH, prostatitis is most common in younger males (6).

In line with this idea of sexual behavior, male hormones are critical for prostate health, mainly testosterone and DHT. Balanced testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT) levels keep the connective tissue of the prostate gland healthy. But the relationship is quite elusive because higher levels may also favor prostatic growth (7).

So, if you really want to keep your prostate healthy, we recommend focusing on three lifestyle factors:

  • A diet rich in antioxidant foods and healthy, nutritious meals

  • Sufficient exercise to activate your cardiovascular system and your blood flow

  • Appropriate sleeping habits, according to your age

Does cycling affect your prostate?

When talking about exercise, we mentioned cycling as an example. This is definitely an excellent cardio exercise. So, why is there a doubt in the scientific community? Is cycling the exception when it comes to healthy training for the prostate gland?

To answer this question, we must first highlight small and high bike seats as an essential feature in most bicycles. These seats are made for sitting upon with the perineum, that muscle zone between your legs.

We usually know this area as the pelvic floor, and it is located just below the prostate. That’s why men with a previous prostatic condition ought to take care of the pressure applied to their groin area. It has a soft tissue that may be subject to pressure, causing problems in your prostate’s long term.

But is this a scientific fact, or is it only an assumption?

There’s a particular link between cycling and prostate health. Some urologic studies show that cyclists have a higher index of sexual health issues. This risk is higher than that of swimmers and runners, for example.

The prostatic disease index, on the other hand, shows no differences. If we take this type of study as an isolated fact, it appears that the prostate is not affected by cycling. But let us review more evidence.

Researchers in the United Kingdom took a sample of more than five thousand cyclists. The study suggests no higher incidence of lower urinary tract problems in this group. However, there was a clear distinction between those who rode for a longer time. 3.5% of cyclists who ride for a long time developed prostate cancer.

In comparison, only 0.5% of the cyclists who ride shorter distances had the same problem. They did notice a higher predisposition to numbness and sores in the perineum area, too.

But is cycling a mortal enemy of your prostate?

Other studies show that excessive cycling could irritate the prostate or aggravate prostatitis. Scientists of University College London did not discover any connection between cycling and man sexual performance.

Nevertheless, cyclists who ride for more than eight hours a week have a higher risk of prostate cancer than cyclists who ride for less than four hours (9, 10). Besides, for cyclists who tend to practice to overexertion, the bike seat may level up the indicators for the PSA test (prostate-specific antigen test).

Besides these problems, the risks of cycling well depend on the type of seat and the exercise’s intensity. We should be careful not to overexert ourselves in riding, especially if we are high-risk patients.

Also, consider bike saddles. Some of them are made of leather and are not breathable at all. These leather saddles increase the temperature in the perineal area. Additionally, they create pressure upon the pudendal nerve and may cause a saddle sore, numbness, and other problems (11).

Tips to ensure comfort while cycling

Cyclists often forget that the use of their bicycle has to be adapted to their age and body type. Every rider must consider that cycling may also negatively influence their health beyond all benefits of physical activity.

Bicycle riding is a fantastic way of exercising and prevents many diseases, particularly those of cardiovascular nature. Mountain bike riding is an ‘antidote’ against obesity. That’s why gyms all over the world have lines and lines with recumbent bikes and upright bikes.

However, the bike has been accused of a long time as the cause of genital numbness, erectile dysfunction, and chronic prostatitis.

The bicycle saddle needs to fit the body of the rider. The best option is to customize your bike, whether you are a prostatic patient or not. It is also important to consider your body movements while cycling. For example:

  • If the saddle nose goes on down inclination, it exerts less pressure to the urogenital area

  • If the bike seat is too high, the compression to the perineum will be proportionally increased

  • The bike saddle should not point too far forward or back

  • The inclination must be right, because most styles run for a horizontal saddle position, while others induce the rider to adopt a more aerodynamic body position.

  • When pedaling, the legs have to execute swift movements, and the push swing is even when the cyclist extends the knee. 

Because of this, researchers developed bike models with absorbers that reduce pressure on the prostate area. In 2007, a study evidenced that such customized bike saddles lower the pressure upon the perineum.

That’s why noseless saddles and ISM saddles are now used by police officials and anyone whose job involves cycling. They are engineered to be comfortable and reduce the strain on the soft tissue of the pelvic floor.

With them, you will be sitting on your sit bones without pressing upon your prostate. They are better than using a traditional saddle and allow you to enjoy the benefits of riding without the potential risks.

Conclusion

Male cyclists have nothing to be afraid of for the prostate gland. But they should keep in mind two different things. One of them is moderation, which seems to be a rule of thumb for healthy habits. The second consideration is having a special bicycle seat that reduces pressure on the pelvic floor.

Age, gender, and habits are still the most relevant factors for most prostate issues. That’s why men over 40 years old are compelled to visit a physician once a year if they have urinary symptoms. A urinary tract infection may cause them, but we should always rule out prostate issues, too.

Sources

  1. McNeal, J. E. (1988). Normal histology of the prostate. The American journal of surgical pathology, 12(8), 619-633.
  2. Allen, K. S., Kressel, H. Y., Arger, P. H., & Pollack, H. M. (1989). Age-related changes of the prostate: evaluation by MR imaging. American Journal of Roentgenology, 152(1), 77-81.
  3. Vance, T. M., Su, J., Fontham, E. T., Koo, S. I., & Chun, O. K. (2013). Dietary antioxidants and prostate cancer: a review. Nutrition and cancer, 65(6), 793-801.
  4. Torti, D. C., & Matheson, G. O. (2004). Exercise and prostate cancer. Sports medicine, 34(6), 363-369.
  5. Sigurdardottir, L. G., Markt, S. C., Rider, J. R., Haneuse, S., Fall, K., Schernhammer, E. S., … & Harris, T. (2015). Urinary melatonin levels, sleep disruption, and risk of prostate cancer in elderly men. European urology, 67(2), 191-194.
  6. Rosenblatt, K. A., Wicklund, K. G., & Stanford, J. L. (2001). Sexual factors and the risk of prostate cancer. American journal of epidemiology, 153(12), 1152-1158.
  7. Morales, A. (2006). Testosterone and prostate health: debunking myths demands evidence, caution, and good clinical judgment.
  8. Vincent, B. T. (2020). Cycling and prostate cancer risk–Bayesian insights from observational study data. bioRxiv.
  9. Hollingworth, M., Harper, A., & Hamer, M. (2014). An observational study of erectile dysfunction, infertility, and prostate cancer in regular cyclists: cycling for health UK study. Journal of Men’s Health, 11(2), 75-79.
  10. Lamb, A. (2015). Is there a link between cycling and prostate cancer?. Trends in Urology & Men’s Health, 6(1), 40-41.
  11. Leibovitch, I., & Mor, Y. (2005). The vicious cycling: bicycling related urogenital disorders. European urology, 47(3), 277-287.

 

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