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Exercise & Cancer

Community Manager
Community Manager
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Exercise & Cancer

Research shows that how we think about our cancer and exercise may influence how much we exercise.

Research by Dr Siân Cole and the Psycho-oncology Research Team at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness and Research Centre – Dr Gemma Skaczkowski and Prof Carlene Wilson - found that beliefs around exercise and cancer influence levels of exercise engagement in adults undergoing treatment for cancer.

It is known that exercise is an important part of managing cancer and can help with increasing physical and mental wellbeing while dealing with treatment side-effects. However, most adults going through treatment for cancer decrease their exercise. This research aimed to investigate the reasons why this happens. The study had 366 participants who were going through treatment for a variety of cancer diagnoses including prostate cancer, breast cancer, brain cancer and blood cancers.

Dr Cole’s research, similar to research in other parts of the world, found that most people decreased their exercise (Decreasers; 58.1%). However nearly a third increased their exercise participation (Increasers; 30.4%) and a small group maintained (Maintainers; 9.2%) their pre-diagnosis exercise levels[1]. These three groups (Decreasers, Increasers and Maintainers) all differed in how they thought about exercise and their cancer.

Dr Cole’s research found that Decreasers had lower levels of beliefs about their ability to exercise[2]. In addition, Decreasers and Maintainers had higher levels of concern that exercise could make their cancer worse than those who increased their exercise. Increasers believed that they have personal control over their health and they thought more about the emotional impact their cancer has on them.

It appears that adults who are undergoing treatment for cancer, who think about their personal responsibility to manage their health and the emotional impact cancer has on their life, plus feel confident about exercising and are not worried about exercise having a negative impact on their cancer were more likely to increase their exercise during cancer treatment. Whereas, Decreasers thought the opposite, and therefore decreased their exercise. Maintainers had concerns about the impacts of exercise on cancer and tended to not think much about their personal responsibility regarding their health; they did have the highest levels of feeling confident about exercising.

Dr Cole recommends that if you have concerns about your health when exercising please talk to your doctor and/or members of your treating team. They will be able to provide health advice or refer you to an exercise physiologist or physiotherapist who can advise you on how to exercise safely. Also, if you enjoyed a certain exercise prior to your diagnosis such as Pilates or tennis then try to continue to do what you have already done - you will feel more confident due to its familiarly and you will be more likely to do it.  Lastly, it is okay to have emotions during treatment for cancer. Emotions can help motivate us, move us towards action that helps us feel more in control with our health. If you feel your emotions become overwhelming, please talk to your treating team about a referral to a psychologist in the oncology team.

[1] There was a small group of Never-Exercises (2.2%) which were excluded from the analysis due to their small size.

[2] Even after controlling for symptom severity and time since diagnosis

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