New study explores the best ways to increase physical activity in cancer survivors


There can be many parts to the cancer survival journey, but one of the most important is regular exercise. Physical activity for people who have completed cancer treatment can build endurance, reduce anxiety, improve quality of life and fitness, and even improve survival outcomes.

“A lot of people living with cancer have been living a very long time because we are doing such a good job of treating cancer now,” says Heather Leach, CU Cancer Center Fellow, PhD, Associate Professor of Health and Human Sciences. exercise at Colorado State University and director of the Physical Activity Lab for Treatment and Prevention. “Therefore, we also need to be concerned about the risk of other chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease, which we know are also reduced with exercise.”

Exercise is so essential in the survival journey that several short-term fitness programs have been created specifically for cancer survivors, including the CU Cancer Center’s BfitBwell program, as well as the CSU’s Fit Cancer program. and the YMCA’s Livestrong program. However, for a large number of survivors, the fitness journey ends as soon as class ends.

We know that interventions and programs like Fit Cancer, BfitBwell, or Livestrong are really successful in helping cancer survivors increase their activity and achieve positive health outcomes while they participate in the program. Unfortunately, after the program, some people find it difficult to maintain their level of physical activity. It can be difficult to achieve the same level of physical activity when we remove a lot of the support and resources that were there during the program. “

Heather Leach, PhD, CU Cancer Center Fellow

Interventions to keep survivors active

In a new study funded by the National Cancer Institute, Leach will investigate the problem further, researching the best ways to keep cancer survivors active after their fitness program is over.

“What can we do to support continued exercise after a program has ended to help those who need it? ” she says. “We want to identify people who are not responding well in terms of physical activity and behavior change. Some people react very well; the program is a catalyst for long term behavior change, and they are doing very well. So how can we maximize the resource efficiency and effectiveness of an intervention to target those who need it most? “

Work with three community exercise programs -; the Fit Cancer program at CSU, a Livestrong program at the Longmont YMCA and Surviving and Thriving After Cancer at the Ivinson Memorial Hospital in Laramie, Wyoming, Leach and colleagues will follow survivors after their exercise programs have ended, followed at three and six-year one-month intervals to see what additional intervention is needed for those whose physical activity has decreased.

“The lowest level of intervention might be a phone call once a week, just to check and ask if they are meeting their activity goals,” says Leach. “The next level could be a phone call and have them come in for a workout with a trainer. The third level could be a phone call, group counseling and in-person exercise with a trainer.”

Push in the right direction

During the first two years of the fellowship, Leach and his co-researchers -; including Angela Bryan, PhD, CU Cancer Center fellow, professor of psychology and neuroscience at CU Boulder -; will work to strengthen their relationship with exercise programs. They plan to start enrolling participants in Year 3, when work will begin on the intervention to help survivors maintain activity levels.

“Our hypothesis is that those who are not responding in terms of meeting activity goals, or those who have decreased their activity levels from where they were after the program, will benefit from an intervention. extra to reach recommended physical activity levels after six months. Follow-up, ”says Leach.

Long-term maintenance of physical activity has long been a research interest of Leach, and in the Physical Activity Lab for Treatment and Prevention, she regularly studies the sustainability of behavior changes and the types of interventions that best keep people active.

“We hear from participants who have completed programs like Fit Cancer, BfitBwell or other community programs who say, ‘I was doing so well. “And then the program ended, and life came,” Leach says. “It prompted me to ask, ‘How can we be more responsive in our approach to maintaining physical activity? “”

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