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Brisk Walking Improves Memory, Helps Combat Fatigue in Cancer Survivors

Brisk Walking Improves Memory, Helps Combat Fatigue in Cancer Survivors

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  • Fatigue and cognitive impairment are the two main commonly reported symptoms in cancer survivors.
  • The association between exercise, fatigue and cognition was studied in breast cancer survivors.
  • Physical activity reduced fatigue, improved cognitive function or the ability to remember and do tasks.

Breast cancer, the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women impairs cognition in the long run and makes you feel tired all the time.

Though medications may help to deal with the disease, a recent study has found that regular exercise which is moderate to vigorous can help reduce fatigue and improve cognition.


Researchers at the University of Illinois in collaboration with Digital Artefacts in Iowa City used an app to study the impact of exercise on fatigue and cognitive improvement.

A Tailormade App to Assess Physical Activity

An iPad app which measures attention, memory and multitasking skills was specifically designed for the study. The app had questionnaires to assess memory, attention and multitasking. Accelerometers were sent to each participant to track daily physical activity.

"The data suggest that being more physically active could reduce two of the more commonly reported symptoms in breast cancer survivors: fatigue and cognitive impairment," said study leader Edward McAuley, a professor of kinesiology and community health at Illinois.

"Most people think, 'If I exercise, I'll become tired.' In our study, exercise actually was associated with reduced fatigue, which in turn was associated with better cognitive function."

Effect of Exercise on Cancer Survivors

Memory problems or shortened attention spans related to aging is also found in cancer survivors. Previous research on physical activity showed that it improves age-related cognitive decline and so the sane was tested in cancer survivors.

Moderate to vigorous physical activity was associated with less fatigue and improved ability to perform everyday activities. Exercise also improved greater accuracy on working memory.

"We found that higher levels of daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity were associated with better performance on the cognitive tasks measuring attention, memory and multitasking," Diane Ehlers said.

The effect of cognition and working memory is partially related to cancer-related symptoms such as fatigue.

Postdoctoral researcher Diane Ehlers, the first author of the study said, "What was notable was that physical activity's effect on cognitive performance was mediated by fatigue. This provides evidence that physical activity interventions targeting fatigue in cancer patients and survivors might provide promising models for improving cognitive function as well."

How Else Can Exercise Help Cancer Survivors

  • Researchers from Yale, Columbia, Penn State and the Dana-Faber Cancer Institute in Boston found that aerobic and resistance exercise reduced joint pain due to bone loss in postmenopausal breast cancer survivors.
  • An evidence-based review published in Canadian Medical Association Journal found that 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, five days a week prevents breast cancer recurrence.
  • In order to reduce cancer-related fatigue, exercise and/or psychological therapy has been found to work better than medications, according to researchers from Wilmot Cancer Institute.
  • Remaining physically active until the age of 35 can reduce the chances of developing breast cancer before menopause by up to 23 percent.
  • Black women who engaged in brisk exercise for a lifetime average of three or more hours a week had a 47 percent reduced risk of developing estrogen receptor-negative (ER-) breast cancer in a study done among 44,704 women.
Scope For Further Research

The researchers have planned to explore the mechanisms behind the effect of exercise on cognitive performance. The iPhone-based study will be done on diverse populations of breast cancer survivors.

"The message for cancer patients and survivors is, get active!" Ehlers said. "Even if it's 10-minute bouts of brisk walking. It's not a magical cure-all, but we've seen many benefits of physical activity for cancer patients and survivors."

Source: Medindia

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