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Breast Cancer Survivors and Group Exercise

What kind of physical activity is most beneficial?

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Research shows that exercise benefits breast cancer survivors, but many do not stick with programs. What might appeal enough to increase adherence? A pilot study found that group exercise designed specifically for people surviving breast cancer resulted in more improvements to quality of life than similar exercise programming led by personal trainers. The study is available in Oncology Nursing Forum (2019; doi:10.1188/19.0NF.185-97).

Colorado State University researchers in Fort Collins, Colorado, wanted to determine whether group-based exercise that intentionally fostered a shared and cohesive experience would be more effective at increasing physical activity and quality of life than supervised individual training.

Researchers enrolled 26 women with stage I or stage II breast cancer into either group-based exercise or personal training for 8 weeks of twice-weekly sessions, physical activity education and discussions. Investigators assessed group cohesion, physical activity, physical fitness and quality of life.


See also: Breast Cancer Survivors and Yoga

To enhance interconnection among group exercisers, facilitators provided personal introductions and name tags, encouraged participants to share their reasons for joining the class, used partner exercises, fostered opportunities for social interaction, collaboratively developed group physical activity goals, and used group problem-solving to overcome physical activity barriers. Classes were limited to no more than 10 participants to allow for interaction, and some classes used circuit-based resistance exercises to encourage connection.

Data analysis showed that, while all subjects’ physical fitness measures improved, participants in group training experienced higher measures of overall physical activity and quality of life. “At the end of the day, what’s most important—the number of bench presses you can do or quality of life?” said study co-author Steven R. Schuster, MD, medical director of the UC Health Cancer Care and Hematology Clinic at the University of Colorado. “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.”

Shirley Archer-Eichenberger, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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