05-11-09 RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS PA—For women who are coping with breast cancer, exercise can be a way to fight depression and gain a better quality of life. Yet according to a new study, few of them are getting the exercise they need. The good news: family can help.
THE DETAILS: Researchers tracked the health of 227 women (average age, 51) who had been diagnosed with either stage II or stage III breast cancer and undergone surgical treatment. They were assessed at the start of the study and 12 additional times over 5 years to evaluate their overall health, fatigue, quality of life, symptoms of depression, and social support, as well as their activity level. This is important because exercise and activity is so beneficial for breast cancer survivors, explains lead study author Charles Emery, PhD, professor of psychology at Ohio State University in Columbus. “We were examining those factors…because of prior research documenting that physical activity is associated with numerous benefits for women with breast cancer, including decreased symptoms of depression and fatigue, increased quality of life, and increased physical endurance,” he says.
What Emery and his team found was that just 18 percent of the women in the study were meeting minimum physical activity recommendations after five years—but that women with family support were more active, over time, than those without it. “Our data suggest that the presence of a very significant life-threatening health problem was not enough, on its own, to encourage maintenance of an exercise program,” says Emery.
WHAT IT MEANS: We all need a little help from our sibs, parents, children, and relatives. For breast cancer patients, that help is crucial for recovery. “Initiating a program of regular physical activity is difficult for most people, including people with no significant health problems,” notes Emery. “It requires a high degree of motivation from anyone, and the fatigue commonly experienced by women being treated for breast cancer may hinder them from initiating increased physical activity.” Unless, that is, they’re gently and persistently helped to do so. Which is where family comes in.
Here’s how to help a loved one with breast cancer raise her activity level—and boost her overall quality of life in the process:
• Walk with her. Ask your loved one to get together for regular walks. “Increasing daily walking is the first step toward greater physical activity,” says Emery. Ask your loved one how much she is able to walk, and map out a route you can cover with her.
• Find her some time. Offer to help around the house, baby sit, run errands, or otherwise free up time for your loved one to exercise, either with or without you.
• Look for a group. Help your loved one find a breast cancer support group that encourages physical activity. She may be able to find workout partners, as well as gain the support and wisdom of others who understand what she’s going through.
• Don’t make her ask. “It’s often hard for breast cancer patients to ask for support from family members when they were formerly the people providing it,” notes Emery. So try to anticipate that need, and take the burden off your loved one by asking her to tell you how you can best help her live as actively and healthfully as possible. Better yet, suggest some specific ways you can help—it may be easier for her to say ‘yes’ to a suggestion than to come up with requests of her own.