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Confidence may help cancer survivors stay fit

Category: Cancer Detection and Tumor Markers

Following a lab test revealing cancer remission, individuals may feel overjoyed yet still concerned about how to stay healthy moving forward. Recently, a team of scientists discovered that simply staying positive may help survivors maintain well-being.

Researchers from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center found that endometrial cancer survivors may be more likely to work out for a longer period of time if their daily self-efficacy was high. In this study, self-efficacy is defined by a person's belief in his or her ability to complete tasks and reach goals.

Confidence is the answer
According to Karen Basen-Engquist, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Behavioral Science at MD Anderson and lead investigator on the study, remaining sedentary is associated with an increased risk of cancer recurrence. She added that when cancer survivors exercise, they not only improve their mental and physical well-being, they also reduce their risk of experiencing other types of cancers. This is why it's important for scientists to learn what encourages cancer patients to work out more.

To come to their conclusion, researchers examined information from 100 endometrial cancer survivors. To measure their self-efficacy, researchers had study participants carry hand-held computers and record how confident they felt each morning in their ability to complete recommend exercise activities. They also answered a questionnaire every two months that helped determine their confidence.

Each study participant was given an exercise plan catered just to them, which included printed materials, a pedometer and access to counseling designed to encourage them to workout more. The researchers discovered that higher self-efficacy in the morning was associated with a greater chance of participants exercising vigorously at some point during the day. Participants recorded their self-efficacy on a points scale, and scientists found that for every one-point increase in confidence, individuals increased their exercise routine by six minutes.

"Our observations make a unique contribution to research by revealing a sense of how the self-efficacy-behavior relationship works outside the laboratory," said Basen-Engquist. "Our next step will be to determine if we can provide messages to cancer survivors in real time, using methods like email or smart phone applications, to increase their self-efficacy and encourage them to exercise more."

Exercise and cancer
WebMD spoke to Kerry Courneya, Ph.D., professor and Canada Research Chair in Physical Activity and Cancer at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, who explained that exercise has many of the same benefits for cancer patients as it does for the general population, meaning it can make them fitter and stronger as well as improve mood. It's important that all former cancer patients talk to their doctors before starting an exercise program.

Furthermore, it's important for cancer patients to not get discouraged if they find that they can't exercise as much as they want to. WebMD states that any amount of exercise is better than none.

"The key is to start slowly and build your body's energy over time," Courneya told WebMD. "Your body has been through a lot and it is necessary to challenge it gradually."

WebMD recommends that patients try stretching exercises and light aerobic workouts such as walking, jogging and biking, which are all good ways to ease into a workout program. If all that seems like too much, patients should simply take the stairs instead of the elevator, or take frequent breaks at work to stand and walk around.

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