Experts recommend 150 minutes of physical activity each week
Though breast cancer survivors are among the women who could most benefit from regular physical activity, many don’t meet national exercise recommendations (150 minutes each week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise) during the decade after being diagnosed, according to a recent study from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Other studies show a strong association between physical activity and reduced mortality, extended survival and higher quality of life among breast cancer survivors. With 2.9 million breast cancer survivors in this country (the group grows by about 80,000 a year), there is considerable interest in the factors that promote health and well-being among them.
“The American Cancer Society recommends that cancer survivors exercise for at least 150 minutes per week. Most survivors may also benefit from strength training exercises at least two days per week,” said Caitlin Mason, Ph.D., author of the study, in a statement. “For survivors who have not been previously active, we advise that they gradually work up to these recommendations.”
The study followed 631 breast cancer survivors ages 18 to 64 from New Mexico, Los Angeles County and western Washington State for 10 years. Before their illness, 34 percent of the women met activity guidelines. After five years, this percentage actually increased to 39.5, but then dropped to 21.4 percent at 10 years. Fewer than 8 percent of the survivors met guidelines during the entire length of the study.
Researchers were surprised by the large drop in activity between the five- and 10-year follow-ups. The study, which took into account factors such as age and body size at diagnosis, found no other characteristics related to the type of breast cancer or its treatment that were associated with the drop in activity between the five- and 10-year reporting periods.
“It seems unlikely that this pattern reflects aging alone given the consistency and magnitude of the trend across all age groups,” the study authors wrote. “Whether this reflects a cohort effect or a unique aspect of the cancer survivorship experience is unclear. Additional consideration of psychosocial factors and issues related to pain management, fatigue and specific treatment effects may help to better understand the unique issues faced by cancer survivors and their impact on physical activity participation.”
The American Cancer Society predicts that in 2013 breast cancer will be the most commonly diagnosed cancer among black women. Though we tend to be diagnosed with the disease less often than our white counterparts, our death rates are higher.