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The effects of physical activity interventions on physical activity and health outcomes in young people during cancer treatment

This review found initial evidence that physical activity interventions may be useful in improving health outcomes in young people during treatment for cancer, but this is based on limited evidence.

Data from seven studies were extracted and meta-analyses combining data was conducted. The meta-analyses included the outcomes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity, total physical activity, fatigue and quality of life.

When considering all trials, no differences were found in the number of minutes/day of participation in moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity or total physical activity, fatigue, or quality of life. However, when trials with a high risk of bias were excluded from the analyses, total physical activity was significantly higher, whilst fatigue and quality of life were significantly lower in the intervention group than the comparator group.

Physical activity interventions may be beneficial for young people during cancer treatment.  As engaging in physical activity is considered safe and feasible, and may have positive benefits on outcomes such as fatigue and quality of life, supporting young cancer patients to engage in physical activity during their treatment may be valuable. However, more research is needed to establish the benefits of physical activity in this population, along with further research on how to effectively prescribe physical activity.

What next?

The findings of this review should be interpreted with some caution as only seven studies were included, with a total of 317 participants. Adequately powered, high-quality trials are needed to determine the effects of physical activity interventions for young people during cancer treatment. Future physical activity interventions should endeavour to identify and overcome barriers faced by this population when trying to increase their physical activity to facilitate better adherence.

Citation details

Langworthy E, Gokal K, Kettle VE, Daley A. Effects of physical activity interventions on physical activity and health outcomes in young people during treatment for cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials, BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine 2023;9:e001466. doi: 10.1136/bmjsem-2022-001466

Acknowledgements

Amanda Daley is supported by a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Research Professorship award. This research was supported by the NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Centre. The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR, or the Department of Health and Social Care.

Our researchers

Ellie Langworthy

Doctorate student, exercise oncology

Kajal Gokal

Dr Kajal Gokal

Senior Research Associate, Snacktivity

Amanda Daley

Professor Amanda Daley

Professor of Behavioural Medicine, Centre Director

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