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Exercise may improve quality of life for breast cancer survivors

May 19, 2003|Dianne Partie Lange

Breast cancer treatment takes a toll on women, leading to weight gain and changes in appearance that can affect how they feel about themselves for years. Now a study shows that women who begin exercising within 18 months after treatment not only improve physically, their self-esteem and mood get a boost too.

Fifty-two postmenopausal women who had undergone chemotherapy, surgery or radiation therapy took part in the 15-week study. Half of them began working out on stationary bicycles for 15 minutes three times a week, gradually increasing their cycling time to 35 minutes; the other half did not exercise regularly. A measurement of cardiovascular fitness, called oxygen consumption, improved 17% on average in women who took part in the exercise program, compared with a decrease of 3.4% in those who didn't.

The cycling women's overall quality of life was remarkably better too, surpassing the benefits (documented in other studies) from support groups or private counseling. Most important, say the researchers, was an increase in time spent feeling happy -- about one additional day a week.

The cardiovascular gains may account for the lift in the women's quality of life, says study co-author Kerry S. Courneya. But improved self-esteem also may be a result of the social interaction involved or the sense of accomplishment.

The study was published in the May issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

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Dianne Partie Lange

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