Childhood cancers

Exercise consultations motivate children to be active after cancer treatment

Just one exercise physiology consultation is enough to improve motivation and exercise levels among most child cancer survivors, results from a NSW study suggest.

Almost three quarters of child cancer survivors increased their general exercise after just one consultation with an exercise physiologist, a UNSW study found. The sessions were also motivational, with nine out of ten children reporting they wanted to increase their fitness levels.

The study assessed responses to exercise consultations in 102 cancer survivors aged between 8 and 18 years old and 70 families of these survivors.

In each consultation, the exercise physiologist assessed the child’s cardiorespiratory fitness and body composition before creating a personalised exercise plan. Together, they set short and long‑term fitness goals and discussed ways to safely increase the child’s exercise abilities to their needs and preferences.

Almost all (96%) of parents and survivors found the consultation an acceptable part of oncology care and would recommend it to other survivors. While some were eager for a consultation during cancer treatment, four out of five said they would prefer the consultation after treatment or in a follow-up session.

Parents were also twice as happy with the exercise information provided when compared to routine treatment.

Dr David Mizrahi, lead author of the study and Clinical Research Officer at UNSW Medicine’s Prince of Wales Clinical School said childhood cancer survivors are already at a higher risk of developing health conditions later in life, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes – and regular exercise could help minimise this risk, while also providing other physical and psychological benefits.

“Currently, less than one-third of survivors are achieving recommended exercise guidelines, but they are ten times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than the general population.”

“Individualised and tailored guidance from an exercise professional will help mitigate the risk of developing future health problems,” he said.

However, despite exercise being recommended as a routine part of care for cancer patients, fitness consultations are not currently part of standard oncology care in Australia, said Dr Mizrahi.

Post cancer treatment, patients will usually have a consultation with their doctor about survivorship. This conversation may include exercise guidelines, but it really depends on the doctor, he said

“The [oncologist] won’t be trained specifically in exercise science, and they have so many other things to worry about. They might mention exercise in general terms, but not exactly what and how much the patient should be doing.”

Dr Mizrahi said he hoped the findings will help build the case for government to fund exercise physiology programs in oncology departments across Australia.

“We have this evidence that parents and kids want this to happen – they enjoy this type of service – but it’s not standard of care. Why is that the case in Australia?”

The findings are published in Heart and Mind journal.

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