by Parkland Medical Center

Young men might not give a second thought to their prostate since it rarely causes health problems early on. But by the time middle age rolls around, it’s a different story.

As men reach their forties, fifties and sixties, many experience symptoms linked to an enlarged prostate, like trouble urinating. Others develop pain and swelling related to prostate inflammation, and some men are diagnosed with prostate cancer, the odds of which increase with age.

So, what prostate issues should men be most concerned about? What are the biggest risk factors for problems? And most importantly, what can you do to promote good prostate health? Read our expert tips to learn more about how to prevent and detect prostate issues.

For personalized recommendations about your prostate health, take our free, confidential prostate cancer health risk assessment. The results will be emailed to you, and there’s no further obligation.

Common prostate problems

Located right under the bladder, the prostate is a walnut-sized gland that produces fluid to protect sperm during ejaculation. Though men can be affected by a number of different troubles with their prostate, some occur more frequently than others. These include:

  • Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH): A non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate, BPH is believed to affect up to 14 million men in the U.S. It’s the most common prostate problem in those older than 50, and the odds of developing it increase with age. BPH is a major cause of bathroom issues in older men since the prostate increasingly compresses the urethra as it grows, interfering with urination.
  • Prostatitis: This inflammation and swelling of the prostate gland can be acute or chronic, and is sometimes triggered by bacteria, though it usually has another cause. It’s the most widespread prostate issue for men younger than 50, but can strike older men, too. Pelvic pain and urinary troubles are common symptoms.
  • Prostate cancer: About one in eight American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point. Many more will develop it and never be aware. Though the American Cancer Society estimates more than 51,000 men will die of the disease in 2024, it’s typically slow-growing and treatable when caught early.

As for who is most at risk for prostate problems, genetics and age are the main risk factors. However, even though you can’t change your genes or stop growing older, there are some lifestyle habits that may contribute to a healthy prostate, easing symptoms and lowering your risks for the disease.

Consider your diet to boost your prostate health

Though eating habits don’t appear to play into the risk of BPH and prostatitis, there’s some evidence that overdoing high-fat foods – especially red meat – may increase your odds of prostate cancer. Skimping on vegetables may also raise the chances that you’ll develop the disease.

Experts often recommend sticking to a heart-healthy diet, which can help protect your prostate. This means focusing on produce, whole grains, fish and good-for-you fats like those found in avocados and nuts, and limiting added sugars, saturated fats and red and processed meats. Men already experiencing urinary symptoms may want to cut back on other items, such as alcohol, spicy food and caffeine.

Some men swear by supplements to boost prostate health, but it’s important not to go overboard with calcium and certain vitamins that could put you at a higher risk for prostate cancer. Speak with a healthcare provider (HCP) about whether supplementation is right for you.

Stay active to protect your prostate

Studies suggest that men who exercise regularly have a lower risk of prostate problems. Among other perks, physical activity may help prevent BPH, reduce symptoms of chronic prostatitis and lower the risk of prostate cancer. In fact, in a 2024 study published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine, men whose cardiorespiratory fitness improved by 3% or more annually over five years, on average were 35% less likely to develop prostate cancer than men whose fitness declined by 3%.

Exercise is also excellent for relieving stress, which can aggravate BPH and prostatitis symptoms and may be linked to the development of chronic prostatitis. The general recommendation for overall health is to shoot for at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity each week.

Maintain a healthy weight for optimal prostate health

Obesity doesn’t appear to raise your risk of prostate cancer, but in some studies, it’s associated with higher odds of developing advanced prostate cancer, as well as dying of the disease. Being obese may play a role in BPH, as well. A 2022 study in Journal of Translational Medicine found connections between genetic predisposition to higher waist circumference, sedentary behavior, and visceral obesity with BPH. In general, a healthy weight seems to improve outcomes related to both prostate cancer and BPH, as well as general health outcomes.

Stop smoking to keep your prostate healthy

Maintaining a healthy weight and quitting smoking can go a long way toward mitigating risks for prostate cancer. A study published in 2022 concludes that “Smokers have a higher risk of dying from prostate cancer, which further increases with obesity.” Smoking can exacerbate urinary symptoms and may influence prostatitis inflammation, but its relationship to prostate cancer is unclear. Some studies suggest it isn’t a significant risk factor for the disease.

That said, tobacco may present problems in other ways. For one thing, it’s been linked to higher mortality in men with prostate cancer. A 2023 study discovered that “current smokers had a 42% higher risk of death from prostate cancer when compared to non-smokers.” Another review published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Oncology in 2018 found that current smokers with prostate cancer had higher recurrence and mortality risks than former smokers.

Smoking may also hinder treatment for conditions of the prostate, as it does for many other diseases. For these reasons – and due to its well-known impact on overall health – it’s often recommended that men with prostate problems quit smoking or better yet, never start.

Consider sex or masturbation to help your prostate health

No, really. Though more investigation is needed, some research suggests that ejaculation frequency may be linked to a lower risk of prostate cancer. For example, in a pair of Harvard studies – one published in 2004, and a follow-up published in 2016 – researchers looked at the ejaculation frequency of more than 30,000 adult men over many years. They found that those who reported ejaculating more often were less likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than those who ejaculated less often.

It’s important to note, however: In terms of the prostate, safe sex should always be a priority. Certain sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can cause prostatitis and may lead to other problems, as well.

Attend your screenings to protect your prostate

Attending regular wellness visits can help you manage existing conditions and detect new problems early, including prostate cancer. The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has found that men at average risk are most likely to benefit from prostate cancer screening between ages 55 and 69. Populations with higher risks, such as African American men and men with family histories of prostate cancer might consider having screenings earlier.

While benefits and risks of screening for prostate cancer aren’t the same for everyone, it’s generally recommended that men discuss it with their doctors for their specific situations. Age 50 is generally a widely accepted time to consider screenings, with possible screenings for men between ages 40 and 50, depending on their risk.

Between checkups, talk to an HCP about any new or unusual symptoms that could indicate prostate troubles, like:

  • Difficulties with urine flow
  • Pain or blood when you urinate or ejaculate
  • Persistent or severe pain around your genitals, abdomen or lower back

Seek medical help right away for signs that may point to more serious problems, such as a constant and urgent need to pee or a total inability to pee. Ultimately, your prostate health depends largely on factors you can’t control. Adopting a few good habits can go a long way toward lowering the odds of prostate issues down the road.

Parkland Medical Center provides a number of health screenings as part of our primary care services. We also offer support for men's wellness, from routine screenings to specialized care, including prostate health, urological care, and treatments for conditions like prostate cancer or erectile dysfunction. Our goal is to encourage men to prioritize their health with accessible services and educational resources. To find out more about your risk for prostate cancer take our free, confidential prostate health risk assessment.

This blog was originally written for HCA Healthcare in 2018. It was medically reviewed and repurposed for HCA Healthcare Capital Division in 2024.