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Wearable Fitness Technology Increases Physical Activity in Cancer Survivors

Increasing physical activity after a breast cancer diagnosis has been shown to significantly improve health outcomes  (i). However, many women who are dealing with breast cancer treatment, or its aftermath, can struggle to implement such lifestyle changes.

NBCF-funded researcher Associate Professor Brigid Lynch (Cancer Council Victoria’s Cancer Epidemiology Division is a cancer epidemiologist whose research focuses on how physical activity and sedentary behaviour are associated with cancer risk and outcomes. She has recently completed the ACTIVity And TEchnology (ACTIVATE) Trial, which assessed whether using a wearable fitness tracker can increase physical activity in women who have completed breast cancer treatment.

The study was a randomised trial of 83 post-menopausal women, half of whom used a watch-based activity monitor (Garmin VivoFit 2™) to track their physical activity over a 12-week time period . Women in the treatment group were also provided with fitness advice and coaching, while the control group received no additional assistance in increasing their activity. The results showed that the combination of the wearable fitness tracker and the coaching led to an increase in physical activity of over an hour per week. In addition, the subjects who wore the trackers also sat for 37 minutes less per day. The results of this study were recently published in the journal Cancer (ii, iii).

Importantly, the improved physical activity continued after the initial 12-week coaching period finished. The researchers continued to monitor activity levels for another 3 months after the study concluded, and found that the average activity levels continued to increase by around 15 minutes per week. Future research will investigate whether the use of the fitness trackers can provide a more active lifestyles that could lead to long-term benefits for cancer survivors.

A/Prof Lynch said that interventions such as this are important, as most people who have had cancer are not active enough.

“We know that for breast cancer survivors, regular participation in moderate-vigorous physical activity is associated with diminished treatment side-effects, enhanced quality of life, and may reduce risk of cancer recurrence and death. Despite these benefits, many breast cancer survivors do not achieve the physical activity recommendations of 150 minutes of moderate-vigorous physical activity per week,” she said.

“Given their low cost and wide reach, fitness devices are ideal tools for health promotion programs. This is particularly important for survivors who live in rural or regional areas where their access to supervised exercise is limited by geographic reach, availability of facilities, appropriately qualified professionals and cost.”

The ACTIVATE Trial was funded by World Cancer Research Fund and the National Breast Cancer Foundation.


(ii) 31012970

(iii) 31012968