After being treated for breast cancer, women who engage in moderate exercise have more energy and feel better about their bodies than less active women, a study shows.
Women treated for breast cancer often experience fatigue that can be long-lasting, study author Dr. Bernardine M. Pinto told. “Physical activity can help manage this problem,” according to Pinto, who is at Brown Medical School and Miriam Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island.
Her team’s findings demonstrate “that increased physical activity is feasible, it can improve their fitness, reduce fatigue and improve vigor” for women who have been treated for breast cancer, Pinto said.
The study included 86 women who had undergone treatment for early-stage breast cancer. At the start of the study, none of the women exercised regularly.
Half of the women were randomly assigned to participate in a home-based exercise program. Each week for 12 weeks, a researcher called these women to monitor their physical activity. The eventual goal was 30 minutes of moderate physical activity -walking, biking, swimming or home exercise equipment - at least five days per week.
The other half of the women also received weekly phone calls for 12 weeks, but they were not encouraged to increase their physical activity.
Women in the home-exercise program reported higher levels of physical activity than the other women, the researchers report in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. What’s more, women in the exercise group seemed to be more physically fit at the end of the study. On average, they walked a mile in much less time than the other women.
Women who exercised regularly also reported feeling more vigor and less fatigue than women who remained sedentary. There were signs that exercise had psychological benefits as well. Women in the exercise program were somewhat more likely to have a healthy body image. However, the difference in body image was not statistically significant, which means it could have been the result of chance.
Commenting on the findings, Pinto noted that much attention has been placed on the benefits of exercise for preventing chronic disease. “This study showed evidence of potential benefits of physical activity for fitness and psychological health after disease diagnosis,” she noted.
One of the exciting aspects of the exercise program is that women were able to exercise at home, according to Pinto. “They didn’t have to show up for exercise classes,” she said.
Women do not have to be natural athletes to benefit. In fact, the volunteers were “quite sedentary” at the start of the study, according to Pinto.
The Rhode Island researcher is hopeful that the benefits of this program will not be limited to people who have been treated for breast cancer. “Stay tuned,” Pinto said. “We have a similar study that we plan to offer to patients with Colorectal cancer.”
The researchers also have plans for a study that would incorporate the home-based exercise program into routine post-treatment cancer care.
SOURCE: Journal of Clinical Oncology, May 20, 2005.
Revision date: June 22, 2011
Last revised: by Andrew G. Epstein, M.D.