Are you a man who has a buddy who is sleep-deprived—not because he’s living the high life but because he admits to visiting the “john” to pee several times a night? Or does that describe you?

Having to urinate repeatedly during the night is called nocturia, and it’s a common symptom of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), the medical term for enlarged prostate. It starts showing up in middle age, and by the time a man hits 80, the likelihood that he has nocturia is more than 90%. But even if you can’t avoid BPH, you can avoid nocturia if you get serious about one thing, says a recent study that analyzed data from a huge, ongoing program called the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial (PLCO, for short).

It’s exercise. Although being physically active does not necessarily prevent BPH, studies show that exercise can delay its development and help keep symptoms—especially nocturia—to a minimum if BPH does set in.

The study looked at 28,404 men who had long-term BPH and 4,710 participants with newly diagnosed BPH. The men ranged in age from 55 to 74 at the start of the study. All kinds of information related to prostate health, outcomes related to BPH (whether a man had surgery for it, for example), exercise habits and other lifestyle habits were analyzed to better understand the role of exercise in preventing nocturia and other symptoms of BPH. Exercise included activities such as walking, jogging and bike riding.


The study findings were an eye-opener about BPH, exercise habits and nocturia. Although exercise had little impact on other symptoms and issues related to BPH, it did make a difference in whether nocturia developed and the degree of severity if it did. For example, men who had long-time BPH and nocturia but got at least one hour of exercise per week were 35% less likely, on average, to need to urinate more than twice per night (severe nocturia) than men who got less than one hour of exercise per week.

Among those in whom BPH developed during the study, those who exercised at least one hour per week were an average 13% less likely to report nocturia than were inactive men—and that rate didn’t much differ whether men got in one hour or more than four. And among those men who did have nocturia, those who exercised at least one hour per week were an average 34% less likely to need to make a bathroom run more than twice per night compared with men who were inactive—in other words, their nocturia was far less disruptive to their sleep. In this case, men who got more rather than less exercise were better off. For example, compared with men who didn’t exercise, men who got one hour of exercise were 25% less likely to need more than two bathroom runs whereas men who got three hours of exercise were 43% less likely.

Researchers recorded exercise levels going back to when each participant was 40 years old. Men who had stayed physically active at least since their 40s were (no surprise) better protected against nocturia than men who only recently started exercising or never exercised. But don’t think that it’s ever too late to get some control over nocturia. Men who were currently exercising—even if they hadn’t in the past—were better protected than men who were once physically active but stopped.


Physical activity gives you a triple whammy of goodness—it promotes weight loss in those who are too heavy…works off stress…and reduces inflammation, which all have an impact on nocturia, according to the researchers. They also noted that exercise probably has a stronger effect on nocturia and even BPH than what was seen in their study because it is likely that many of the participants exaggerated when reporting the amount of exercise they actually got. Studies show that most American men are sedentary, and this fact should have been more strongly represented in the study population, considering that the large majority of participants were overweight. Still, the take-home message is, if you are more active by day—if you make a habit of brisk walks or jogs, bicycling or gym workouts—you can help your bladder be less active at night when you want to sleep. It’s easy and powerful.