Exercise kit with breast cancer ribbon

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Exercise improves physical and mental side effects of breast cancer treatments, new study finds

Exercise helps breast cancer patients with the physical and mental side effects of treatment, a new Loughborough University study has found, and ultimately it may improve disease prognosis.

Led by experts in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, the research, published in Nature Scientific Reports, looks at the effects of resistance and endurance exercises on patients undergoing post-surgery treatment known as ‘adjuvant therapy’.

Adjuvant therapies – such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormone therapy, and forms of targeted therapy – have shown much success in increasing the survival of breast cancer patients.

However, these therapies can have negative side effects that profoundly impact patients’ physical and emotional health, decreasing quality of life.

Well-documented side effects include depression, fatigue, and declines in physical fitness (reduced muscular strength and endurance). Such issues can decrease adherence to treatment and, as a result, decrease the efficiency of treatment.

The Loughborough study, led by student Jonathon Mok, looked at the effect of resistance exercises (such as lifting weights) and endurance exercises (such as walking and jogging) on breast cancer patients’ physical and mental health.

The researchers pulled together data on 1,830 patients from 18 different peer-reviewed studies and, using statistical analysis techniques, identified overall trends.

They found that combined resistance and endurance exercise interventions are beneficial to cardiorespiratory fitness, depression, muscular endurance, muscular strength, quality of life, and social functioning.

The findings also revealed that the combination of exercises can significantly improve fatigue in breast cancer patients – which is important given this side effect is said to affect between 62% and 85% of patients undergoing treatment.

Other findings include:

  • Individually, resistance and endurance interventions improved side effects – though endurance exercise was found to slightly decrease muscular strength
  • Resistance interventions elicited higher benefits overall.

The study concludes that, by reducing the negative side effects, these interventions can enhance treatment adherence rates, therefore increasing treatment efficiency and ultimately improving disease prognosis.

Lead author Jonathon hopes the research will “progress literature towards improving the process of adjuvant treatment for breast cancer patients to minimise its detrimental side effects”.

He added: “This will help those undergoing aggressive cancer treatments to return to a functional lifestyle post-treatment.”

To read the paper, titled ‘The lasting effects of resistance and endurance exercise interventions on breast cancer patient mental wellbeing and physical fitness’, click here.


Additional information:

As well as the insightful findings, the study is interesting as it is based on Jonathon’s dissertation, and it is unusual for undergraduates to get their work published.

“It feels like a huge achievement to have this published and I am very proud!”, said Jonathon, who is now in his fourth year of the Biological Sciences course and is researching the effects of exercise intervention on breast cancer cells.

“I never expected to get published and I am very thankful for my supervisory team for all their help and support throughout this process.”

Dr Mhairi Morris, who supervised and co-authored Jonathon’s study with Dr Elizabeth Akam and Mj Brown, said of the achievement: “I am so impressed. This is exceptional for an undergraduate student. Jonathon’s already working at PhD level – I have high hopes for his future career as a research scientist.”

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 22/54

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2021 QS World University Rankings and University of the Year for Sport by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2022, and 10th in both the Guardian University League Table 2022 and the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.