"These data suggest that the presence of a very significant life-threatening health problem was not enough to encourage maintenance of an exercise program," Emery said.
The research is published in the April issue of the journal Psycho-Oncology.
The researchers followed 227 women who had participated in a previous clinical trial in which they were randomized to receive either a year of psycho-educational counseling or standard breast cancer follow-up assessments and treatment.
All of the women had been diagnosed with stage II or stage III breast cancer and surgically treated. They were assessed at the start of the study and 12 additional times over five years to evaluate health status, symptoms, fatigue, health-related quality of life, depressive symptoms, social support and physical activity.
Self-rated physical activity was measured in standard energy expenditure values, or METs. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 or more minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity for adults, which equals about 23 METs each week.
At the start of the study, 20 percent of participants achieved or exceeded the goal of 23 METs per week of physical activity. At one year, 37 percent of participants had reached that point. By the study's end, just 18 percent were performing the recommended amount of physical activity each week.
In addition to psychological and social factors, medical factors were evaluated as predictors of physical activity. Chemotherapy treatment had a negative effect on exercise activity for the first three years, but that effect diminished later in the study.
Women with higher physical performance status reported higher levels of physical activity at the start of the study, and that association did not change over five years. Similarly, wome
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Ohio State University