Researchers at the University of Illinois, along with collaborators at Digital Artefacts in Iowa City, Iowa, and Northeastern University in Boston, in their study, discovered that just by having a brisk walk, cancer patients can fight fatigue and improve their cognitive function.
The researchers examined the association between physical activity, fatigue and performance on cognitive tasks in about 300 breast cancer survivors. Unlike previous studies which have relied on small samples of cancer survivors, and used self-reporting measures of physical activity and cognitive function, this new study had objective measures for both physical activity and cognitive performance, and a nationwide sample of breast cancer survivors.
The researchers worked with Digital Artefacts – developer of the commercial neuroscience app BrainBaseline – to create an iPad app tailored to this study. The app included questionnaires and activities designed to measure attention, memory and multitasking skills. The researchers also sent each participant an accelerometer to track daily physical activity.
The research team found that higher levels of daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity were associated with better performance on the cognitive tasks measuring attention, memory and multitasking. This suggests that being more physically active could reduce two of the more commonly reported symptoms in breast cancer survivors, which is fatigue and cognitive impairment.
According to lead author of the study, Edward McAuley, a professor of kinesiology and community health at Illinois, a lot of people think that exercise would make them tired but the study has proved otherwise that exercise actually makes a person less tired, in other words, exercise reduces fatigue, which in turn is linked with better cognitive function.
The message for cancer patients and survivors therefore is, says Diane Ehlers, the first author of the study, to get active, even if it’s as little as a 10-minute brisk walk. Although it’s not a magical cure, it comes with many benefits.