Exercise Improves Quality of Life During and After Treatment

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Much research has shown that exercise, a healthy diet, and counseling can help women feel better, both physically and emotionally, during and after breast cancer treatment.

Two new, separate review studies strongly support these results. The studies found that 12 weeks of exercise was linked to better overall quality of life for people being treated for cancer as well as survivors. The studies were published online on Aug. 15, 2012 by The Cochrane Library. The Cochrane Library catalogues information from the Cochrane Collection, a highly respected program that helps doctors and patients decide on the best treatment approaches based on careful analysis of available research.

Read the abstracts of “Exercise interventions on health-related quality of life for people with cancer during active treatment" and “Exercise interventions on health-related quality of life for cancer survivors."

In one review, researchers looked at 40 studies involving nearly 3,700 people who had completed treatment for a variety of cancers, including breast cancer. The people were randomly assigned to be in a group that exercised or a control group that didn’t exercise. The exercise group did activities such as strength training, resistance training, walking, biking, yoga, Qigong, or Tai Chi.

After 12 weeks, the researchers found that overall health-related quality of life improved more in the exercise group compared to the non-exercise group. Compared to the group that didn’t exercise, the exercise group also had:

  • better body image
  • better self-esteem
  • better ability to interact socially
  • less anxiety
  • less fatigue
  • less pain

In the second review, researchers looked at 56 studies involving more than 4,800 people who were being treated for a variety of cancers, including breast cancer. The people were randomly assigned to be in a group that exercised or a comparison group that didn’t exercise. The exercise group did activities such as walking, biking, strength training, resistance training, yoga, or Qigong.

Again, after 12 weeks, the researchers found that overall health-related quality of life improved more in the exercise group compared to the non-exercise group. Compared to the group that didn’t exercise, the exercise group also had:

  • better ability to interact socially
  • better physical functioning
  • less fatigue

The researchers also looked to see if people being treated for specific cancers got more or different benefits from exercise compared to each other. Women being treated for breast cancer who exercised had their anxiety levels drop much more compared to people being treated for other cancers who exercised.

People who exercised at a moderate or vigorous intensity level, rather than a mild intensity level, got the most benefits from exercise.

If you’re currently being treated for breast cancer or have been treated in the past, try to make exercise and a healthy diet part of your daily routine. Think of exercise and a healthy diet as another important part of your overall treatment plan that helps you recover and stay healthy. Talk to your doctor about how much and how often you should exercise. Ask around and see if any breast cancer support groups near you have organized exercise classes. If you can't find an exercise class through a breast cancer group, consider joining another exercise class or start walking with a friend. There's a good chance that exercising with other people will give you the motivation and support to make regular exercise part of your recovery. Find the right exercise routine for YOU and then do your best to stick with it! It can make a difference both physically and mentally, today and tomorrow.

In the Breastcancer.org Exercise section you can learn about:

  • the benefits of exercise
  • types of exercise
  • when you can and can't exercise during treatment
  • tips on finding a trainer

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