Exercise and breast cancer: study looks at how confidence plays a role

As Breast Cancer Awareness Month is underway, a new study sheds light on a unique issue for older breast cancer survivors - staying motivated to exercise.

According to scientists from Oregon State University in the US, more than 40 percent of older breast cancer survivors don't get enough exercise after leaving their treatment program. Since regular exercise can reduce the risk of the disease's recurrence, experts say it is crucial for women to get moving after treatment.

In a new study, researchers conducted a clinical trial to understand the benefits of a 12-month supervised group exercise program in 69 older breast cancer survivors, all 65 and older. Women were surveyed on the basis of self-efficacy, which the researchers described as the "confidence" to be able to overcome exercise barriers, such as being too tired. Women with high self-efficacy were 10 percent more likely to stay active six months after the exercise program than those with lower scores. 

Boosting self-efficacy

How can women with low self-efficacy have higher self-efficacy? "We can teach breast cancer survivors how to enlist the support of others and how to identify exercise-related barriers, as well as provide proven strategies for them to overcome those barriers," study author Paul Loprinzi says.

"Especially important is minimizing weight gain after breast cancer treatment because excessive weight gain can increase the risk of developing reoccurring breast cancer."

Women can maintain their confidence for exercise by rewarding themselves for small successes and building up exercise gradually -- and not expecting too much too soon, the researchers note.

"When people who lead the classes are cancer survivors themselves, this can help because they become a role model," adds professor Bradley Cardinal, one of the study's authors. "Also, they can help prepare the participants for that time when they have to exercise on their own."

Also, the researchers add that having a network of friends and family who can provide encouragement and support is also a factor that helps people stick with exercise.

The findings are published in the October issue of the journal Supportive Care in Cancer.



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