Cycling is a fun and effective form of exercise, but you might worry that pressure from a bicycle saddle can cause urinary, sexual and prostate problems. With precautions, you can enjoy your bike ride without causing any long-term damage.
The prostate is a small gland about the size and shape of a walnut that’s part of a man’s reproductive system. It helps produce semen, the fluid that carries sperm from your testicles through the penis and out of the body. As you age, the prostate can grow larger and squeeze the nearby urethra, causing urinary problems. You might also be at an increased risk for infections, inflammation, an enlarged prostate or prostate cancer.
According to Dr. Gabe Mirkin, author of “The Sports Medicine Book,” data from clinical studies shows that side effects of bicycle riding in men are most often genital numbness and impotence. Rarer effects can include infertility, blood in the urine, twisting of the spermatic cord, prostatitis, or inflammation of the prostate, and elevated levels of a test used to check for prostate cancer.
Researchers at the Department of Urology, Meir Medical Center at Tel Aviv University reviewed bicycling-related urogenital problems in men in a 2005 edition of European Urology. They concluded that incidents of prostatitis caused by bicycling were the result of compression of the prostate from sitting on the saddle for long periods. However, a Swedish study between 1998 and 2007 followed 45,887 men aged 45 to 79 years of age to investigate the effect of lifetime physical activity on the incidence of prostate cancer. Their results, published in 2009 in the British Journal of Cancer, found that men who had the highest lifetime physical activity level had a 16 percent decreased risk of developing prostate cancer compared with men with the lowest level of activity. The researchers estimated that each 30-minute daily period of walking or bicycling reduced the risk of developing prostate cancer by 7 percent.
Because most of the negative effects on the prostate from cycling stem from the bicycle seat, Dr. Paul K. Nolan, an internist practicing in Warda, Texas, who refers to himself as the Bike Doc, points out that if you have a chronic prostate problem that’s aggravated by sitting on a conventional seat, you can find “exquisite relief” by switching to a recumbent seat. Dr. Steven Schrader of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Cincinnati authored an article published in August 2008 in the The Journal of Sexual Medicine that reported on a study showing that noseless bicycle saddles can reduce numbness, pressure and genital discomfort in male cyclists.
The prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, test is the current gold standard for identifying prostate cancer. Although studies are mixed about the effects of cycling on the PSA test, the November 2004 issue of European Urology reports that a few have linked bicycling riding to temporary elevated PSA levels, which could lead to a false screening. If you are concerned about the possibility and have an upcoming PSA test, you may consider avoiding cycling before blood sampling.