Newswise — Community-based exercise programs can improve physical fitness and quality of life for people with cancer, a Rutgers study finds.

Exercise is recommended for cancer survivors to reduce the side effects of treatments and improve their overall well-being, but there has been limited research to qualify the benefits.

The new study appears in The Journal of Advanced Practitioner in Oncology

“Having an evidence base for cancer exercise programming instills confidence in survivors and health care providers that these programs are effective and safe,” said lead author Rita Musanti, an assistant professor of oncology nursing at Rutgers School of Nursing and a research member of Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. “It also provides researchers with evidence-based programming, so more targeted exercise options can be offered to survivors.” 

Musanti analyzed fitness data collected at the start and end of a 12-week LIVESTRONG program at YMCA sites in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Measures included cardiopulmonary, muscular strength, flexibility and balance as well as self-reported quality of life outcomes, such as anxiety, depression, fatigue and pain. 

Of the 88 participants, a majority had completed treatment within the past two years, were female and were breast cancer survivors. Notably, 67 percent reported having peripheral neuropathy, a form of nerve damage that can result from chemotherapy, causing weakness, numbness and pain in the hands and feet. It can cause problems with balance and mobility, putting people at a greater risk for falls. 

The study found exercise significantly improved the participants’ quality of life, with the exception of heart rate and left-sided balance in men, which remained unchanged. The results also revealed differences in the rate of improvement based on the participants’ age, cancer type and the presence of peripheral neuropathy. Among the results:

  • Men under age 39 had greater increases in flexibility than older men
  • Women under age 30 years had greater improvement in strength and balance than older women
  • Women without symptoms of peripheral neuropathy had better balance

If you are interested in learning more about this or other research from Dr. Musanti, please contact Cait Coyle at [email protected] or 848-445-1955.