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Childhood Cancer Survivors and Physical Activity

Wed, 12/01/2021 - 09:00
Happy kids doing stretching exercises on a track

New Brunswick, N.J., December 1, 2021 – The survival rates of adolescent and young adults with cancer have risen dramatically due to advancements in cancer therapies. However, this population is at higher risk of developing treatment-related chronic illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, obesity, secondary cancers and psychosocial issues that may be disruptive to social development. There is a growing consensus that adopting and maintaining a healthy lifestyle including physical activity can help mitigate some of these detrimental effects.

Katie Devine, PhD, MPH, is section chief of Pediatric Population Science, Outcomes, and Disparities Research in the Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the state’s only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center together with RWJBarnabas Health, and associate professor of Pediatrics at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. Her research focuses on psychosocial aspects of pediatric, adolescent, and young adult cancer survivorship, including survivorship care and health promotion for survivors. She shares insight on this topic.  

What is known about the relationship between young cancer survivors and physical activity during survivorship?

Research suggests that increased physical activity is associated with lower risk of death and cardiovascular events among childhood cancer survivors. There is a growing body of evidence that shows participating in regular physical activity can improve physical functioning and quality of life. But many survivors do not regularly engage in physical activity.

What research is currently being conducted in this area?

Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey recently completed a study looking at the feasibility of a group-based exercise intervention paired with a wearable fitness tracker and mobile app. Survivors enjoyed participating in the intervention and using the wearable tracker and app. They showed some gains in muscular strength but getting people to travel somewhere to do a group-based intervention can be hard, particularly in the context of a global pandemic. There are new ongoing studies looking at remotely-delivered exercise interventions as well as using wearable trackers and social media to encourage survivors to engage regularly in physical activity.

What advice do you have for childhood cancer survivors and their families for staying physically healthy after treatment?

Just get moving! Set small, specific goals. Track your progress and reward yourself for achieving your goals (e.g., buy yourself a new workout outfit or water bottle). Get active as a family – together, you motivate each other to get moving on days you would rather sit on the couch. Try different activities until you find one that you love, whether it be a team sport, outdoor adventure, or going for a walk. And if you miss a few days, don’t get down on yourself – just get right back up and start moving again.

 

The Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Program at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey together with RWJBarnabas Health provides comprehensive, state-of-the-art care for children and adolescents with cancer and blood disorders. 

 

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