Researchers at Northwestern University say it appears the physical activity alleviates stress and benefits women psychologically, which in turn aids their memory.
A surprising finding is memory problems appear to be related to the high stress load cancer survivors experience, and may not be specific to chemotherapy or radiation treatments, the researchers noted.
“Our research suggests these self-reported memory problems may be emotionally related,” said lead author Dr. Siobhan Phillips, an assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
“These women are frightened, stressed, fatigued, tapped out emotionally and have low self-confidence, which can be very mentally taxing and can lead to perceived memory problems.”
In the study, which was published in the journal Psycho-Oncology, more physical activity was associated with higher levels of self-confidence, lower distress, and less fatigue, which in turn was associated with lower levels of perceived memory impairment.
“We found moderate to vigorous physical activity actually benefits women psychologically and that, in turn, helps their memory,” Phillips said.
Breast cancer survivors who had higher levels of moderate and vigorous physical activity — brisk walking, biking, jogging, or an exercise class — had fewer subjective memory problems, according to the study’s findings. Subjective memory is an individual’s perception of her memory.
For the study, researchers looked at memory and exercise in breast cancer survivors in two ways: one in self-reported data for 1,477 women across the country; the other in accelerometers worn by 362 women.
The findings linking improved memory to higher levels of physical activity were consistent across both groups, the researchers found.
Source: Northwestern University