Mind Over Matter Keeps Up Exercise

Breast cancer patients with more confidence can better keep an active program

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Confidence often comes from the heart and believing in oneself. And that belief can help people keep to their routine, particularly cancer patients, when it comes to exercise.

Former breast cancer patients who become more self-confident, motivated and develop other positive features during an exercise program are more likely to continue their routine afterwards, a new study has found.

"Exercise with a group to keep a routine."

Experts say that regular exercise could reduce the risk that breast cancer returns and the risk of death related to the cancer.

This makes it crucial to focus on former cancer patients who do not have a physical activity routine.

The study, led by Paul Loprinzi, MD, an associate professor of exercise science at Bellarmine University and Bradley Cardinal, MD, professor of social psychology of physical activity at Oregon State University, looked at the possible reasons breast cancer patients do or do not continue to be active after completing a supervised exercise program.

Researchers recruited 69 women ages 65 and older who beat breast cancer to complete a 12-month supervised exercise program.

Participants had completed breast cancer chemotherapy or radiation treatment more than two years before enrolling in the study and were recruited from the Oregon State Cancer Registry and through the community.

They were also exercising less than 30 minutes three times per week prior to the study.

Researchers divided them into one of three groups to engage in aerobic exercise, resistance training with weights or stretching and relaxation exercises.

All three groups attended supervised hour-long classes three days a week for 12 months with each class.

During the first nine months of the classes, the exercise intensity progressed from low to high for the first two groups, and they kept the exercise intensity high the last three months of the program.

The third group was kept at the same intensity to show whether the rate at which people exercised affected the end result.

All three groups were neither encouraged nor discouraged by the researchers and trainers to exercise outside their assigned group, but they were instructed to continue their exercise program after it ended.

Participants were given their own equipment, an instructional DVD and a six-month training program to follow at the end of the 12 months.

The authors said that former breast cancer patients are likelier to stick to exercise if they have structured group support.

“In making the transition from group to being on your own, committing yourself by developing an activity schedule and identifying activities that are enjoyable, even signing a 'contract' with a social support partner would be useful,” Dr. Cardinal said in a press release.

Researchers surveyed participants on whether they would continue exercise after the program, what strategies they would use to change their exercise behavior and how confident they felt in their ability to overcome any problems with continuing to exercise.

They found that those patients who felt more able and confident to overcome barriers with exercise were far more likely to continue exercising on their own.

Patients who said they would keep exercising, combined with how much they were exercising at the completion of the program, was significantly linked to how much they were still exercising six months later.

These patients were 10 percent more likely to be physically active six months after the program than those who felt less confident and capable.

"Their confidence in their ability to make progress leads them to stay active with their workouts and keep striving for new achievements," said Jim Crowell, co-owner and head trainer at Integrated Fitness and dailyRx Contributing Expert.

"When somebody doesn't develop that confidence they typically don't understand why they are exerting themselves for no positive gains."

Researchers said in a press release that though everyone should meet physical activity guidelines, it could be even more important for former breast cancer patients.

"We can teach breast cancer survivors how to enlist the support of others and how to identify exercise-related barriers, as well as provide proven strategies for them to overcome those barriers,” Dr. Loprinzi said.

Exercise helps lower common side effects that come with being treated for cancer, including depression, muscle weakness, fatigue and weight gain.

Too much weight gain can increase the risk breast cancer would come back among those patients, he said.

The authors do not report any conflicts of interest.

The study, which was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health, was published in the October issue of Supportive Care in Cancer journal. 

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Review Date: 
October 10, 2012
Last Updated:
October 12, 2012