Quality of Life Improves with Exercise During Breast Cancer Treatment


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Even moderate activity may improve quality of life for breast cancer patients. Image by Spanishale

Breast Cancer Treatment: How Much Activity Helps?

In the study, researchers studied how much physical activity these women were getting before the interventions, and after the interventions. Stagl tells Decoded Science the results of their survey:

“At the pre-intervention assessment, women reported an average of 158 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week, and 24 minutes of vigorous intensity PA per week. At the post-intervention assessment, women reported an average of 275 minutes of moderate intensity and 55 minutes of vigorous intensity PA per week. Clearly, there was an increase in PA as women recovered from surgery and completed adjuvant treatment (chemotherapy and radiation). Even at the baseline though, women were being more active than we might have expected. Since moderate activity can even include brisk walking, it is possible that women had a range of activities they could classify as moderately intense.” 

Recommendations for Breast Cancer Patients

The results of the study clearly shows the positive effects physical activity has on a patient’s mental health. Decoded Science asked Stagl what recommendations she had for women with breast cancer regarding physical activity. Her response:

“It is too soon to make strong recommendations. Our study examined self-reports of PA, and future research should look at an exercise intervention and CBSM or other psychosocial interventions combined. In fact, there is some research developing that does combine these two modalities. Women may benefit differently from different interventions. Some may get more out of a “mind” intervention, like CBSM. Others may do better with a “body” type intervention, like PA. This study suggests that a combination of both might be the most beneficial. This is a challenging time for these women. They have to adapt physiologically and psychologically to an illness, and there are ways to make this adaptation process more effective. Combined CBSM and PA might be one way to do this. “

Decoded Science asked Stagl if she had any final thoughts or comments; she replied:

“The research suggests that even moderate activity can have potential benefits for these women. Women shouldn’t feel like they have to go train for a marathon. We know that PA increases endorphins in the brain (our natural feel-good chemicals in the brain). Even brisk walking, active games with their kids, or other moderate intensity activity can lead to improvements in mood and quality of life.

While going to the gym may be mundane, women can choose activities they enjoy. For someone who enjoys a mild hike, the byproduct of the hike is pleasure from the experience, and a boost in endorphins. The activity will probably bring some satisfaction to the day, as well as give the woman the confidence she needs to participate in other activities she may have been avoiding due to persistent fatigue.

As the field moves towards caring for the whole patient, encouraging physical activity and stress management therapy are two ways to optimize psychological and physiological adaption to the cancer experience, which may in turn make the recovery process easier, and improve resiliency to side effects or setbacks in treatment.”

Physical Activity and Breast Cancer

This study amplifies the positive effects that physical activity has on breast cancer patients. While it’s too soon to make a broad recommendation for all breast cancer patients, and cancer patients in general, patients should consider speaking with their doctor about the benefits of physical activity during treatment.


Stagl, J., Antoni, J., Lechner, S., et al. Physical Activity Adds to the Effects of Stress Management Intervention on Fatigue Interference, Depression, and Functional Quality of Life During Treatment for Breast Cancer. Presented to the Society of Behavioral Medicine, April 13, 2012.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Breast Cancer Statistics. Accessed on April 13, 2012.

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