For many cancer survivors, a better quality of life may be as close as a walk around the block. A growing body of research, including two recent studies led by the Yale Cancer Center and researchers from the Yale School of Public Health, show that exercise is an effective way for survivors to improve physical activity, fitness levels, and quality of life.
The studies were presented at the 2015 annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago. The first evaluated the effect of an intervention designed by LIVESTRONG on cancer survivors who participated in twice-weekly 90-minute exercise sessions for three months at local YMCAs. The other study, known as WALC, explored whether home-based exercise programs that encourage brisk walking could reduce fatigue and improve the quality of life for ovarian cancer survivors. Results of both studies found exercise to be a potent tool for helping survivors improve the quality of their lives.
The LIVESTRONG study was conducted by Melinda Irwin, associate professor at the Yale School of Public Health and associate director of population sciences at the Yale Cancer Center; and Jennifer Ligibel of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. It evaluated 186 participants for quality of life, physical activity, and fitness.
After 12 weeks, participants, who had been inactive prior to their diagnosis, experienced significant increases in physical activity (71 percent exercised a minimum of 150 minutes a week versus 26 percent for the control group); and improvements in both overall quality of life and fitness performance (based on a six-minute walk test). The participants had been diagnosed with cancer, stages I-IV, and 50 percent had breast cancer.
“For many people, quality of life is compromised after a cancer diagnosis. This study showed that exercise can improve patients’ lives in myriad ways, regardless of how active they were in the past,” said Irwin, first author on the study.
The WALC study, conducted at Yale and led by Irwin, is the largest exercise trial involving ovarian cancer survivors. A total of 144 ovarian cancer survivors who were not physically active, were placed in either an exercise group or a control group. Each group received a weekly call from a counselor to discuss a health topic relevant to ovarian cancer survivors. Women in the exercise group also received physical activity counseling from a certified cancer exercise trainer.
Results showed that a moderate-intensity walking program can improve ovarian cancer survivors’ quality of life, in particular physical functioning and pain management. Although 55 percent of the women enrolled had stage III or IV disease, and 25 percent experienced a recurrence during the trial, they were interested in exercising and able to do so at recommended levels.
The National Cancer Institute funded the WALC study.