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Exercise May Improve Mood, Anxiety in Older Adults Getting Chemotherapy

Older chemotherapy patients who engage in low- to moderate-intensity exercise at home may experience improved anxiety, mood and social and emotional well-being, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (JAGS).

Previous research has shown that exercise can improve anxiety and mood issues in younger cancer patients, but few studies have looked at the effects of exercise on older adults with cancer. Since most new cancer cases occur in adults over age 60, a research team from the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York and other institutions designed a study to learn more.

In general, having cancer increases the risk of anxiety and mood issues, all of which can affect emotional and social well-being. In turn, this may lead people to discontinue cancer treatments, which can mean shortening their survival.

In addition, older adults undergoing chemotherapy often experience higher rates of dangerous side effects as well as anxiety and other mood disorders; and treating these problems with medications can cause potentially dangerous side effects. In fact, many anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines and antidepressants are listed in the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) Beers Criteria as being potentially inappropriate for older adults.

This is why it is desirable to seek safe non-medication treatments that can help improve anxiety, mood disturbances and emotional and social well-being in older cancer patients. Several studies have looked into the association between exercise and mood in cancer survivors and most have shown positive results.

In the new study, the researchers looked at the effectiveness of the Exercise for Cancer Patients (EXCAP) program, a home-based, low- to moderate-intensity aerobic and resistance exercise program. Patients who were assigned to the EXCAP program received an exercise kit containing a pedometer, three exercise bands (medium, heavy, extra heavy), and an instruction manual.

During the program, participants increased the length and intensity of their workouts over time. For example, participants received an individually tailored, progressive walking routine, and they wore a pedometer and recorded their daily steps over six weeks, starting on their first day of chemotherapy treatment.

Participants were given individually tailored workout plans that encouraged them to perform 10 required exercises (such as squats and chest presses) and four optional exercises daily. They were also encouraged to gradually increase their steps by five to 20 percent every week.

For resistance exercise, they worked with therapeutic exercise bands and were encouraged to increase the intensity and number of repetitions on a gradual basis throughout the program.

Overall, the findings suggest that a low- to moderate-intensity home-based exercise program may improve anxiety, mood, and social and emotional well-being in older cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy treatments.

Notably, the patients who benefited the most from the exercise program were those who started off with worse anxiety, mood, and social and emotional well-being.

Source: American Geriatrics Society

Exercise May Improve Mood, Anxiety in Older Adults Getting Chemotherapy

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2019). Exercise May Improve Mood, Anxiety in Older Adults Getting Chemotherapy. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Jul 2019 (Originally: 14 Jul 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 14 Jul 2019
Published on Psych All rights reserved.