Exercise performed in a group setting improves both the physical and mental wellbeing of people diagnosed with breast cancer, finds a new study.

The performance of physical exercise in addition to traditional psychotherapy or social support groups appears to add to the quality of life for patients.

The study is published in the British Medical Journal.

Study authors report that breast cancer is the most common occurring cancer among women in the UK. Treatment for cancer, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, can badly affect quality of life.

However, current cancer rehabilitation programs are mainly based on psychotherapy or social support, and do not generally deal with the physical problems encountered by patients.

Researchers from Scotland set out to determine if group exercise programs could prove beneficial to women who were having treatment for early stage breast cancer.

Over 200 women took part in the study. They were split into two separate groups; the first (control group) received their usual care, whilst the second group received their usual care plus were invited to take part in a 12 week program of exercise sessions.

Participants in the second group were encouraged to attend two classes – led by trained exercise specialists – and undertake one additional exercise session at home each week.

Following the 12 week session, the researchers analyzed the physical and psychological wellbeing of the participants by measuring a number of factors, such as levels of depression, quality of life, mood, shoulder mobility, walking distances and weekly levels of physical activity. These factors were measured after 12 weeks and six months later.

Participants in the second group had better outcomes on both a physical and psychological level than those who had not taken part in the exercise program, both at the 12 week and six month assessments. Also, after six months those who had exercised had made fewer visits to their GP, and spent fewer nights in hospital, than the participants in the control group.

The researchers say that the benefits experienced by the women may have been caused by the exercise itself or by the group experience, or a combination of both. They conclude that clinicians should encourage activity during cancer treatment for patients, and policy makers should consider including opportunities for exercise in cancer rehabilitation services.

Source: British Medical Journal