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Group Exercise Improves Quality of Life More Than Personal Training for Women Treated for Breast Cancer

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While group exercise and personal training sessions both lead to similar physical gains, a small study suggests that a specially designed group exercise program can boost quality of life more than personal training for women who've been treated for breast cancer.

The study was published in the February 2019 issue of Oncology Nursing Forum. Read the abstract of "Effect of Group Dynamics-Based Exercise Versus Personal Training in Breast Cancer Survivors."

Why exercise?

Many studies have found a link between regular exercise and a lower risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer, as well as a lower risk of breast cancer coming back (recurrence).

As a result, the American Cancer Society and many doctors recommend that women who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, as well as those who haven’t, exercise regularly — about 4 to 5 hours per week at a moderate intensity level. (Brisk walking is considered moderate intensity exercise.) This is about double what the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends per week for adults.

For people who've been treated for breast cancer, exercise can:

  • ease side effects, such as nausea, constipation, fatigue, and bone/joint pain
  • boost your endurance and give you more energy for daily tasks
  • increase your mobility and range of motion
  • boost bone health and reduce the risk of osteoporosis
  • help you fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply

How this study was done

Exercise is good for everyone. The researchers who did this study wanted to know if a certain type of exercise was better than another for women who had been treated for breast cancer.

The study included 26 women who had been diagnosed with stage I or stage II breast cancer. The women were randomly split into two groups that both received exercise training twice a week for 8 weeks:

  • The women in one group were trained by a personal trainer.
  • The women in the other group were part of a group dynamics-based exercise class.

Both groups did similar exercises, but the women in the group exercise class were coached to achieve group goals.

"Our goal is to make cancer survivors feel like they're part of a team," said Heather Leach, assistant professor of health and exercise science at Colorado State University and the study's first author. "We help them work toward a common task, a common goal, versus having an instructor at the front of the room telling people what to do. For example, instead of saying, 'I'm going to walk three times per week,' maybe they set a group goal, like, 'By the end of the intervention, as a group we will have walked 100,000 steps.'"

The results showed that both groups improved their physical strength, especially as a result of chest presses and leg presses.

But the women in the group exercise class had a greater improvement in their quality of life and also did more overall physical activity.

"At the end of the day, what's most important — the number of bench presses you can do or quality of life?" said Steven Schuster, M.D., medical director of the UC Health Cancer Care and Hematology Clinic and the study's co-author. "It fits a model of wellness that we really buy into — physical health interacts with emotional health, and also your community of support, including other patients walking on the same journey. They can be part of your wellness, too."

How to make exercise part of your life

If you’re recovering from breast cancer treatment, along with being busy with work, household chores, and family matters, finding time to exercise almost every day can seem impossible.

It can help to break up your exercise into 20- or 30-minute sessions that add up to about 4 hours per week. Walking is a great way to start. Maybe you walk 30 minutes before going to work and 20 minutes on your lunch break. You can add a few more minutes by parking farther away from your building or taking mass transit. Or you can make plans to walk with a friend after work — you’re more likely to stick with an exercise plan if someone else is counting on you. Plus, you can socialize at the same time.

Along with healthy diet and lifestyle choices, regular exercise is one of the best things women can do to feel their best and to keep the risk of breast cancer recurrence as low as it can be. This study adds to other research suggesting that regular exercise can help keep your physical and mental health in top shape. No matter how old you are, it’s never too late or too soon to get moving. And once you do start, keep at it!

Visit the Exercise section for tips on exercising safely and how to stick to an exercise routine.

To talk with others about the benefits of exercise, share exercise tips, and get encouragement, join the Discussion Board forum on Fitness and Getting Back in Shape.

Written by: Jamie DePolo, senior editor

Reviewed by: Brian Wojciechowski, M.D., medical adviser

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