Exercise Helps Cancer Patients Function in Daily Life

A new study examined how the perceived physical and psychological benefits of exercise help cancer patients with functioning in normal, daily life.

“Due to the significant consequences of impaired functioning, assessments of functioning are an important area for cancer nurses when supporting and motivating patients during their rehabilitation process,” shared the study authors. “In order to develop and implement clinically relevant rehabilitation programmes, it is important to increase knowledge about how patients experience the effects of exercise on their functioning in daily life and to examine the role exercise plays in their recovery. However there is limited research in this area. This study aimed to explore how individuals with cancer receiving curative treatment and participating in an exercise intervention experienced their functioning in daily life.”

Cancer patients were recruited from Phys-Can, a multi-center, randomized, controlled exercise intervention study. Recruitment took place at three university hospitals. Eligible patients were aged ≥18 years; diagnosed with breast, colorectal, or prostate cancer; and scheduled for curative chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and/or endocrine therapy. Patients were excluded if they were unable to perform basic activities of daily living, living with cognitive disorders or severe emotional instability, or suffering from disabling comorbid conditions (i.e., chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, orthopedic conditions, neurological disorders). The six-month intervention included a home-based endurance training program and resistance training at a gym twice a week. After the intervention, patients were invited to participate in a survey. The interviews were semi-structured; example questions included:

  • What was your experience of performing household chores over the past six months?
  • Can you tell me about your experiences of carrying out leisure activities compared to before your illness?
  • Can you tell me about your social life over the last six months?
  • Can you tell me what your relationship with your family has been like?
  • Can you describe any everyday situations where you found that exercise has affected you?

Exercise A Positive Aspect of Daily Functioning

Final analysis included responses from 21 patients (mean age, 57.5 years; 18 patients were female; 15 patients had breast cancer, and three patients each had colorectal and prostate cancer). Two main themes were identified through the interviews, along with three subthemes each:

  • Struggling with impairments from side effects of cancer treatment
    • Impaired cognitive functioning
    • Impaired physical functioning
    • Exhausted all the time
  • Striving to maintain a normal life in a new context
    • Exercise facilitated functioning in daily life
    • Adjusting activities
    • Social and informative support from the exercise group

Several quotes that came up during the interviews included:

  • “Exercise has been a positive thing. Of course, I’ve been tired pretty much all the time, but how would I have been without exercising?” – Patient 2
  • “I’ve experienced social and mental tiredness all the time. I haven’t been able to spend a long time with people, that’s what has affected me the most.” – Patient 4
  • “I think the exercise has helped me in every situation. I’ve managed to think positively and I’ve developed a body that can manage everyday life all the time. It’s affected me. You could see this in the test results. I’m much stronger now than I was before … and the exercise didn’t take place in a hospital environment, it was at a public gym. I think that also helped me to feel healthier.” – Patient 6
  • “I’ve been healthier and stronger, both mentally and physically. I can manage, if I hadn’t exercised like that I think it would have taken longer for me to get going physically. Now I’ve been active all the time. Exercise improves your mental health, I’ve really felt that.” – Patient 14
  • “You get a bit scared of doing things, especially if you’ve had a wound after the operation. Having a professional to provide guidance and having a special exercise programme were positive things.” – Patient 16

The study was published in the European Journal of Oncology Nursing.

Overall, the researchers concluded, “Exercise was perceived as being important for maintaining functioning in daily life during cancer treatment, and the group exercise provided important social and informative support from others in a similar situation. Struggling with side effects of treatment which affected functioning in daily life made adjustments important in order to keep their daily life as normal as possible.”

Kaitlyn D’Onofrio is a digital medical writer. She is interested in musculoskeletal health, the effect of exercise on health, and mental health awareness. When she’s not writing for DocWire, Kaitlyn is teaching yoga classes in her community, promoting wellness to her students.