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A Little Exercise Helps Breast Cancer Survivors


HOUSTON -- Breast cancer survivors can improve their quality of life by incorporating short bouts of exercise into their daily lives, researchers here reported.

HOUSTON, July 21 -- Breast cancer survivors can improve their quality of life by incorporating short bouts of exercise into their daily lives, according to researchers here.

The benefits of brisk walking or climbing stairs include improved physical functioning and decreased pain, reported Karen Basen-Engquist, Ph.D., at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center here, and colleagues, online in the journal Patient Education and Counseling.

The small pilot study also found that the exercise program significantly improved measures of general health after six months.

The Active for Life After Breast Cancer Study included 60 women who had recently completed both radiation and chemotherapy for breast cancer. They were randomized to either a standard care control group or an intervention group. The latter received training sessions from the researchers on how to incorporate short periods of moderate activity into their daily routine.

The training sessions also focused on how to overcome barriers to becoming more active, such as time constraints, fatigue, incontinence, and hot flashes or premature menopause caused by chemotherapy.

At six months of follow-up, the intervention group performed significantly better than the control group, walking an average of 100 feet further in a six-minute walking test (P=.005).

Compared with the control group, the intervention group also had less bodily pain (P=.02) and better general health (P=.006) as measured by the medical outcomes study short form-36.

However, the training program did not appear to induce the women to try more challenging exercise, as the number of days on which study participants did 30 minutes or more of intense physical activity did not differ significantly between the groups.

"Despite the small sample size, the lifestyle intervention showed promise for improving physical functioning and quality of life and increasing physical activity and should be tested in a larger randomized trial," the researchers concluded.

"If the lifestyle approach is shown to be effective in a larger trial, it represents a highly feasible intervention that can be delivered to cancer survivors by health care institutions or community organizations without dedicated exercise facilities and equipment," they added.

"The wonderful take-away message from this study is that simple exercises, such as walking during coffee breaks or parking further away from work, can have beneficial effects on physical health and functioning," Dr. Basen-Engquist said.

"Exercise doesn't need to be a daunting activity or even an organized outing to reap significant rewards for breast cancer survivors," she said.

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