The Curious Connection Between Cycling and PSA Levels
It’s a common question: Is cycling bad for your prostate? Many have raised concerns that too much time in the saddle could cause prostate inflammation and irritation, but research has shown a minimal link, at most.
However, there is one connection that numerous studies have noted: a correlation between more time on the bike and elevated PSA levels in men. Our friend and longtime cycling coach Darryl MacKenzie, among many others, has noted this same connection.
If you’re a man over age 50 who regularly cycles, it’s a connection worth paying attention to so you can avoid a false alarm for prostate cancer. To learn more about how cycling and PSA levels intertwine, we’ll need to discuss what exactly PSA is and what cyclists can do to make sure their PSA levels are accurate.
What Do PSA Levels Measure?
A PSA test measures the levels of prostate-specific antigen in the bloodstream at any given time. This antigen is present at some level in all men, and it’s produced by both cancerous and noncancerous tissues in the prostate.
PSA levels naturally increase as men age, So your doctor’s recommendations will typically be based on the following standards:
- Men in their 40s and 50s: PSA over 2.5 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) is abnormal.
- Men in their 60s: PSA over 4.0 ng/ml is abnormal.
- Men in their 70s: PSA over 6.0 ng/ml is abnormal.
For men with an average risk of prostate cancer, doctors typically recommend regular PSA testing beginning at age 50, and at least annually once numbers are over 2.5 ng/ml.
Age isn’t the only reason your PSA count can increase. Cancer is a major cause, and that’s why physicians use PSA counts to do screenings for prostate cancer. But they can also rise due to inflammation, irritation or recent ejaculation. A single test showing elevated PSA isn’t necessarily cause for alarm, but it’s something your doctor will want to follow up on.
Does Cycling Increase PSA levels?
And this brings us to cyclists specifically. As we mentioned before, studies have shown a connection between regular cycling and elevated PSA levels in some men. Darryl has confirmed this, too, and we’ll get into that in a moment. First, let’s consider why cycling and PSA levels are connected.
It’s not merely the fact that cyclists sit a lot — it’s what they’re sitting on. Consider someone who's a couch potato. They spend a lot of time sitting, but the pressure on their buttocks is spread out. A dedicated distance cyclist, on the other hand, spends hours every week with their butt on a very narrow saddle that puts pressure directly on the prostate.
That pressure can cause temporary (again, no consistent long-term issues have been observed) inflammation of the prostate, which can lead to a short-term surge in PSA levels. If you get tested the day after a ride, you very well may see your levels in an abnormal range.
What To Do Before Your Next PSA Check
In fact, that’s just what Coach Darryl has observed. Twice the last few years, he has had elevated PSA counts that seemed to come out of nowhere.
Darryl, who’s in his late 60s, normally has PSA numbers around 4.0 ng/ml — normal for his age. But in May 2019, he had a reading of 6.0, and in July 2021, he had a reading of 6.8. He suspected cycling may be the cause, so he took time off the bike to test his theory.
In 2019, he was retested a month after his first high reading, and this time he took two days off the bike beforehand. The result? A PSA count of 3.7 ng/ml. After that, he made it standard practice to take two days off before a test.
But, in July of 2021, he had a reading of 6.8 despite being off the bike for two days. So, he took five days off before retesting this time. Once again, he saw a drop — this time to 4.3 ng/ml.
The moral of the story? The link between cycling and PSA levels can make itself rather apparent during a medical evaluation. If you’re a male cyclist and you want to avoid these skewed test results, take a break from cycling for at least two days before you get a PSA test. This will help you ensure you get an accurate reading.
Do What’s Best for Your Prostate
There’s one more thing you can do, though: Make sure you always ride with a Selle Anatomica saddle. As Darryl puts it, “the Selle Anatomica saddle is more friendly to the prostate than the other saddles.”
The flex-fly slot and unique hot, dry process for molding the leather create a saddle that’s ideal for any distance rider. For a male cyclist, the slot relieves pressure on the perineum and prostate area. The soft, tensioned leather creates a hammock effect, and the saddle moves with your body rather than resisting your movements, thus reducing or even eliminating irritation. If you’re concerned about your prostate but want to be sure you keep cycling, a Selle Anatomica saddle is the way to go.
After all, any concerns over minor prostate irritation or artificially elevated PSA levels are far less serious than the risks associated with staying off the bike.
“Being on a bicycle is far better than being on a couch listening to the sound of your arteries hardening,” says Darryl. We couldn’t agree more.
Look for more insights from Coach Darryl over at his website.
Photo by Munbaik Cycling Clothing from Pexels