Exercise and Cancer: you’re just a phone call away from accountability!

One of the most difficult things to do in anyone’s life is to change habits and behaviour. Our bodies and minds become used to a routine, a habit, or an attitude and it takes a lot of effort to do something that challenges habits. Add a cancer diagnosis, cancer therapy, or post therapy into this mix with all of the physiological and psychological effects and we can see how integrating daily exercise becomes even more of a challenge. It’s known that even a small change in activity levels, 30 – 60 minutes a week, can create a significant change in non-sedentary cancer patients (1). An interesting study looked at colorectal cancer survivors in Australia and telephone based health coaching in order to increase physical activity levels (2).  This study looked at 410 colorectal cancer survivors, it divided the group into two and tracked their progress over 12 months:

1) The Telephone Intervention Group: This group received(3):

  • 11 telephone health coaching sessions with coaches having university degrees in nursing, psychology, and health promotion. Initially the sessions were conducted every two weeks and then once a month; these coaching sessions covered conversations about their current experience as a survivor, lifestyle behaviours, strategies to enhance behaviours like nutrition and physical activity, strategies to diffuse problematic situations, and verbal re-commitment to goals.
  • A handbook that includes education on ideal lifestyle behaviours, common problems managing side effects of colorectal cancer treatment, and how to track and monitor behavioural changes.
  • Postcards encouraging changes in lifestyle
  • A Pedometer with a goal of 10,000 steps a day
  • A newsletter

2) The non-treatment group received the same newsletter as the treatment group did but no other treatment.

The study looked at the amount of physical activity that the two treatment groups had accomplished, their quality of life, and cancer fatigue, body mass index, and diet.  At the end of the study, the telephone intervention group saw an increased physical activity level, an improvement in body mass index, and improved nutrition (less fats).  The treatment group also had a higher probability of adhering to the Australian National fitness guidelines.  What this study truly shows is that a combination of proper education, and a method of accountability can create behavioural change. The tools for accountability can be cost effective, time efficient, and impactful. Combining this study with the previous summary on the benefits of physical activity and cancer we can ultimately see the pathway to successful integration of this drug in the treatment and prevention of cancer.

(1) Vallance JK, Courneya KS, Plotnikoff RC, Yasui Y, Mackey JR. Randomized controlled trial of the effects of print materials and step pedometers on physical activity and quality of life in breast cancer survivors. J Clin Oncol. 2007;25(17): 2352–2359.
(2) Anna L. Hawkes, Suzanne K. Chambers, Kenneth I. Pakenham, Tania A. Patrao, Peter D. Baade,Brigid M. Lynch, Joanne F. Aitken, Xingqiong Meng, and Kerry S. Courneya.Effects of a Telephone-Delivered Multiple Health Behavior
Change Intervention (CanChange) on Health and Behavioral Outcomes in Survivors of Colorectal Cancer: A Randomized Controlled Trial. J Clin Oncol. 2013;31(18):2313-2322.
(3) Anna L Hawkes, Kenneth I Pakenham, Kerry S Courneya, Sara Gollschewski, Peter Baade, Louisa G Gordon, Brigid M Lynch, Joanne F Aitken and Suzanne K Chambers. A randomised controlled trial of a tele-based lifestyle intervention for colorectal cancer survivors (‘CanChange’): study protocol. BMC Cancer. 2009;9:286

About Chris Tse

I’m a scientist turned owner of Blitz Conditioning, a Fitness Columnist at CBC Radio on Thursdays at 8:20 am, and owner of Tse Social Strategy. Follow me on Twitter or Read my full bio.

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