Activity trackers motivate cancer survivors to move

(Credit: Getty Images)

Activity trackers such as pedometers and smartphone apps may offer a way to boost step counts and exercise for cancer survivors, research finds.

The devices have the appeal of being convenient, home-based, and unsupervised, may help with exercise log accuracy, and in some cases, serve as a communications tool for healthcare teams.

For the study, which appears in the Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, researchers reviewed the outcomes of a dozen different randomized, controlled clinical trials involving 1,450 cancer survivors that evaluated the use of the devices for periods ranging from one to six months.

Adherence rates sometimes topped 70 percent. Participants said trackers had a positive impact on general fitness and symptoms such as fatigue.

Rather than being sedentary, time spent taking brisk walks or doing other moderate-to-vigorous activity tends to reduce cardiovascular risk factors, helps manage weight, and improves strength, endurance, and heart and lung function.

That’s important because cancer survivors are often at heightened risk for short- and long-term conditions such as heart disease, hypertension, weakened bones, and diabetes.

Devices used in the studies included pedometers, smartphone apps, Wii Fit, and heart rate monitors.

“As technology is increasingly used in the general population in daily life and in healthcare, the number of ways that digital activity tracking devices can be used to encourage and improve physical fitness is countless,” says senior author Chunkit Fung, associate professor of hematology/oncology at Wilmot Cancer Center and the University of Rochester Medical Center. “Truly, almost everyone can benefit from engaging in exercise; the benefit of exercise spans all ages and health conditions.”

Fung’s specialty is genitourinary cancers (testicular, prostate, bladder, and kidney), but the patients who participated in the trials had a wide range of cancers, including breast and leukemia.

Future studies should look at cost-effectiveness and develop ideal exercise prescriptions for reducing cancer-related symptoms and improving quality of life for survivors, the researchers suggest. Experts estimate that by 2022, cancer survivors will number 18 million worldwide.

“With increased survival rates in many cancer types due to the improved therapy, the importance of incorporating exercise into patient care is immense, as exercise interventions can have a positive impact on fitness, activity level, quality of life, and overall well-being,” says first author Kerry Schaffer, a hematology/oncology fellow at Wilmot.

“This research confirms that exercise interventions utilizing digital activity trackers are a feasible method by which to increase exercise engagement in the cancer population.”

Source: University of Rochester