Walking Improves Quality of Life in Patients with Advanced Cancer

Physical activity drops during and after cancer treatment.

Simply taking a walk for 30 minutes at least 3 times per week could improve the quality of life in individuals with metastatic cancer, according to a study published in BMJ Open.

The investigators sought to assess the feasibility and acceptability of a community-based walking intervention to enhance the quality of life in individuals with recurrent or metastatic cancer. They used a mixed-method design comprised of a 2-center randomized controlled trial and qualitative interviews.

Included in the study were 42 patients with advanced breast, prostate, gynecological or haematological cancers. The participants were randomized to receive either coaching from an initiative by Macmillan Cancer—–which included a short motivational interview, the recommendation to walk for at least 30 minutes on alternative days, and attend a volunteer-led group walk weekly––or maintain their current level of activity.

The investigators assessed feasibility and acceptability of the intervention in a randomized controlled trial evaluating rates of recruitment, consent, retention, adherence, and adverse events, as well as using an end-of-study questionnaire and qualitative interviews.

Patient-reported outcome measures that assessed activity, mood, fatigue, self-efficacy, and quality of life were completed at baseline and weeks 6, 12, and 24.

The results of the study showed that participants in the intervention group reported an improvement in physical, emotional, and psychological wellbeing after completing the program. Furthermore, many patients reported that walking provided an improvement in positive attitudes towards their cancer, and spoke of the social benefits of participating in group walks.

One study participant said in a press release, “The impact has been immense! It gave me the motivation to not only increase walking activity from minutes to 3 to 4 hours per week but also to reduce weight by altering diet [and] reducing sweets/sugars. Great boost to morale. No longer dwell on being terminal—–I’m just on getting on with making life as enjoyable as possible, greatly helped by friends made on regular ‘walks for life.’”

Overall, the authors said that the intervention is acceptable and well-tolerated, and the study design was judged acceptable and feasible. Furthermore, the results were deemed encouraging, and demonstrated that exercise was popular and conveyed benefit to participants.

“The importance of exercise in preventing cancer recurrence and managing other chronic illnesses is becoming clear,” said co-author Emma Ream. “Findings from this important study show that exercise is valued by, suitable for, and beneficial to people with advanced cancer. Rather than shying away from exercise people with advanced disease should be encouraged to be more active and incorporate exercise into their daily lives where possible.”

Growing evidence has shown the significant health benefits of exercise in patients with cancer, even though physical activity commonly declines considerably during treatment and remains low afterwards. Current initiatives to promote physical activity are typically supervised and require travel to specialist facilities. This only adds and additional burden on patients.

“This study is the first step towards exploring how walking can help people living with advanced cancer,” said lead investigator Dr Jo Armes. “Walking is a free and accessible form of physical activity, and patients reported that it made a real difference to their quality of life.

“Further research is needed with a larger number of people to provide definitive evidence that walking improves both health outcomes and social and emotional wellbeing in this group of people.”