By Rebecca Opie, ABC News, Jun 25, 2016
Exercise can help cancer patients overcome depression and anxiety, leading to benefits within six weeks, new research from a Western Australian university shows.
- Results more dramatic than researchers anticipated
- Positive effects felt within six weeks
- Just 2.5 hours moderate exercise per week enough to have effect
The study involved 32 patients with a range of cancers – including brain, prostate and breast cancer – who were experiencing depressive symptoms, as well as two people undergoing palliative care.
The participants were randomly split into three groups: people exercising at home, those doing gym-based exercise and others who did no exercise at all.
Adjunct lecturer at Edith Cowan University, Dr Greg Levin, said while researchers expected to see cancer patients benefit from exercise, the results were more dramatic than anticipated.
“The level of depression in those people who had cancer and who didn’t exercise generally stayed the same, or progressively got worse,” he said.
“Participants who completed any type of exercise experienced a positive effect, particularly in terms of reducing their symptoms of depression.
“Several patients progressed from being classified as majorly depressed to being asymptomatic.”
The research showed two-and-a-half hours of moderate exercise a week was enough to relieve anxiety and depression.
“One of the most promising findings was that exercise did not need to be too vigorous to be beneficial and benefits could be gained fairly quickly,” Dr Levin said.
“From weight training or chopping wood through to walking the dog, all types of exercise showed a benefit in terms of mental health.”
The research was presented at the Multinational Association for Supportive Care in Cancer (MASCC) conference in Adelaide on Saturday.
Incoming MASCC president, Professor Ian Olver, said the research showed exercising as part of a patient’s normal daily routine was enough to make a difference.
“In terms of motivation, they found that the people who exercised at home felt more in control of their disease and that’s probably why they benefited more and earlier,” he said.
“What was quite surprising was that even quite profound depression significantly improved.
“We are not talking about drug therapy here. We are talking about just changing your lifestyle.”
Professor Olver said the findings would be converted into guidelines and educational programs for clinicians and allied health practitioners who are looking after cancer patients.
“We try to disseminate the information as widely as possible so that it makes an impact on the patient’s quality of life,” he said.
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