Breast cancer survivors should exercise regularly as part of their care plans, a new study suggests.
Women who did aerobic and resistance training three times a week had a significant improvement in factors associated with cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and possibly breast cancer recurrence, say researchers at the University of Southern California (USC).
Their study, “Effects of Aerobic and Resistance Exercise on Metabolic Syndrome, Sarcopenic Obesity, and Circulating Biomarkers in Overweight or Obese Survivors of Breast Cancer: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” appeared in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
One of the challenges faced by breast cancer survivors is weight gain, which increases a patient’s risk for metabolic syndrome. This often causes high blood pressure, excessive body fat and high triglycerides — all of which are associated with an increased risk of stroke, heart attack and heart disease.
“Many people don’t know the No. 1 cause of death for breast cancer survivors is heart disease, not cancer,” Christina Dieli-Conwright, lead author of the study, said in a press release.
Women who develop metabolic syndrome are three times more likely to see their breast cancer come back, researchers claim, but their findings seem to suggest that adding a supervised exercise routine to the weekly schedule could help minimize that risk.
To test that hypothesis, USC researchers funded by a $700,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health enrolled 100 breast cancer survivors who had received treatment less than six months before enrollment, and randomized them to receive either aerobic and resistance training or usual care.
The exercise group participated in supervised moderate to vigorous aerobic and resistance training three times per week, for 16 weeks. Training sessions included resistance with weights and at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise.
Primary outcome measures included metabolic syndrome z-score, sarcopenic obesity and serum biomarkers at baseline. The same measurements were taken post-intervention, at 16 weeks, and after a three-month follow-up (for the exercise group only).
At the beginning of the USC study, 46 percent of participants were obese and 77 percent had metabolic syndrome. But after the intervention, only 15 percent had metabolic syndrome, compared to 80 percent in the control group.
Women who exercised lost fat, gained muscle, reduced their risk of heart disease and saw their blood pressure drop by 10 percent, while good cholesterol levels (high-density lipoprotein or HDL) increased by 50 percent. The effects endured for at least three months after the intervention had ceased.
The findings support incorporating supervised clinical exercise programs into the care plans of breast cancer survivors to improve metabolic syndrome.
“Exercise is a form of medicine,” said Dieli-Conwright, “and we will continue to conduct studies to supplement traditional cancer therapies.”
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