It’s week 3 of the Great Cycle Challenge Canada, raising funds and awareness for childhood cancer research. One of the most inspiring parts of participating in this event is the number of kids who are current or past cancer patients who ride their own distances in the challenge. Thinking of them makes it pretty insignificant when I have to deal with wind or mechanical issues or just being tired. But it also got me wondering how their participation might impact their cancer or treatment.
Morales et al (2018) reviewed several randomized control trials on this question. A randomized control trial is a type of study that works well when there are many factors that can’t be controlled. Participants are randomly assigned to a particular condition, in this case the kids participated in exercise or they didn’t. Because everyone is different, the random assignment supports researchers in teasing out the impact of the intervention, in this case exercise.
The results are encouraging for all the kids riding in this year’s challenge. Unsurprisingly, kids going through cancer treatment lose some functional fitness. This is the fitness we use to do daily tasks like climbing the stairs. Participating in an exercise program significantly improved the kids’ functional fitness. This means that doing daily tasks was easier. While I’ve never battled cancer, I do know what it’s like to lose functional skills because of an injury and this is huge. When you can’t complete the things that you used to barely think about it’s a huge mental hit.
The exercise did not impact mortality or relapse risk in either direction (no improvement but also no negative impact). Obviously, one dreams that exercise could have a positive impact on all parts of cancer treatment and recovery but that probably isn’t realistic. However, improving functional fitness is nothing to scoff at and is an area where more research could help standardize recommendations and make physical activity a prescription to help many kids fighting cancer maintain just a little more of the daily activityhttps://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctrv.2018.08.012.