July 10, 2019
2 min read

Exercise improves anxiety, mood in older patients receiving chemotherapy

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A 6-week, home-based exercise program improved anxiety, mood, and social and emotional well-being among older patients with cancer receiving chemotherapy in U.S. community oncology practices, researchers reported in Journal of the American Geriatric Society.

“A diagnosis of cancer increases the likelihood of experiencing anxiety and mood disturbance, which can affect emotional and social well-being, ultimately leading to treatment interruptions and decreased survival,” Kah Poh Loh, MBBCh, BAO, from the University of Rochester Medical Center, and colleagues wrote. “Pharmacologic interventions for anxiety and mood disturbances often result in significant adverse effects in older adults. Therefore, behavioral interventions to improve anxiety, mood disturbances, and emotional and social well-being are desirable.”

The investigators performed exploratory secondary analysis of a randomized controlled trial to evaluate the effects of exercise on anxiety, mood and well-being in 252 patients aged 60 years or older with cancer during their first 6 weeks of chemotherapy at community oncology practices.

Participants received Exercise for Cancer Patients (EXCAP) — a home-based, low-to moderate-intensity progressive walking and resistance training program — or usual care (control). After 6 weeks, researchers examined arm effects on postintervention anxiety (via the State Trait Anxiety Inventory), mood (via the Profile of Mood States), and social and emotional well-being (via the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy–General subscales). The majority of patients (77%) had breast cancer.

The results showed statistically significant group differences between the exercise program group vs. control group in anxiety (P = .001), mood (P = .022), social well-being (P = .002) and emotional well-being (P = .048).

Patients in the exercise program who had worse baseline scores for each outcome saw greater improvements at 6 weeks than those in usual care (P = .001 for anxiety; P = .032 for mood disturbances; (P = .006 for social well-being; P = .026 for emotional well-being).

These findings show the potential of low- to moderate-intensity exercise to improve psychological outcomes, according to Loh and colleagues.

“Current exercise guidelines for healthy adults and cancer survivors primarily focus on improving physical fitness and cardiopulmonary function and recommend a one-size-fits-all approach,” thy wrote. “However, the recommended amount of activity should be tailored to a specific patient for a specific outcome, especially in older adults with cancer who may not be able to achieve the guideline-recommended level of exercise. Therefore, there is a need for [randomized controlled trials] to evaluate the specific exercise types, durations, and frequencies appropriate for specific outcomes.” – by Savannah Demko

Disclosure: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.