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Exercise can help reduce depression in cancer patients

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Regular exercise can reduce depression in cancer patients, according to a new study.

Research funded by Macmillan Cancer Support revealed that women who were active during treatment for breast cancer exercised more five years later and had lower levels of depression.

The charity said the study is the first of its kind into the long-term benefits of exercising during treatment.

A total of 203 women took part in the original 12-week supervised group exercise programme during treatment for early stage breast cancer and 87 of them were reassessed at the five-year follow-up.

Carried out by researchers at the University of Strathclyde, the results showed women who were more active consistently experienced lower levels of depression and increased quality of life compared to those who were less active.

The study, recently published in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship, said women who took part in an exercise programme during treatment five years ago, now averaged three hours and twenty minutes more physical activity each week than a control group who did not.

Macmillan now wants to work with the NHS and local councils across Scotland to develop exercise programmes aimed at getting cancer patients active.

Allan Cowie, the charity’s general manager in Scotland, said: “Cancer patients have traditionally been told to rest, however this research shows there are real and long-lasting benefits to doing some exercise while going through treatment and building on our previous research that found exercise makes some cancers less likely to return, it’s clear that getting cancer patients to exercise is vital.

“We have already been working with partners to develop exercise programmes for cancer patients in parts of Scotland and we now want to continue working with the NHS and local authorities across the country to make the existing services responsive to the growing numbers of people affect by cancer in years to comes.”

Dr Anna Campbell, lecturer in Clinical Exercise Science at the University of Dundee, and part of the research team, said: “This is the first study that has looked at the long term impact of a group exercise programme on cancer patients. The results of this study were much more positive than we had expected, with evidence of lasting benefits including increased positive mood and more active daily living.

“The study also suggested that five years after taking part in the group exercise class, the women were now more likely to exercise on their own and didn’t see as many barriers to exercise as the women who had not been allocated to exercise during treatment.”

Laura Simm, 52 from Lochwinnoch, Renfrewshire, took part in the exercise programme while undergoing radiotherapy for breast cancer. She said: “I’m not a gym person but it felt really good during the classes and afterwards I felt immediately better, brighter and cheerier in myself. Ever since I took part in the programme I have endeavoured to do something every weekday morning. I’ll go for a brisk walk and a bit of a jog for around 4-5km five times a week as well as some swimming.

“The most beneficial thing for me about taking part is how it helped me mentally. I suffer from fatigue, but find being active outside in the fresh air is really therapeutic and makes me feel more positive.”

The charity said the research builds on previous work showing patients with breast, bowel and prostate cancer were at less risk of their cancer recurring and of dying from their illness if they did a recommended level of physical activity.

The 2011 study also found that after treatment all cancer patients could reduce their risk of getting side effects of cancer and its treatment by doing recommended levels of physical activity. These include fatigue, depression, osteoporosis and heart disease.

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