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October 23, 2023 | 3 minute read

How Fitness Trackers Benefit Cancer Survivors

Key Takeaways:

  • Despite the recommendation for cancer survivors to exercise, about 84 percent aren’t active enough.
  • Wearing a fitness tracker may help! It can motivate you to exercise more.
  • AICR is funding research too see if fitness trackers can promote exercise in cancer survivors

Your doctor likely recommended exercise to help you stay healthy after cancer treatment. Research suggests that regular exercise may lower cancer recurrence and reduce long-term side effects of cancer treatments, like fatigue, weakness, anxiety and depression.

AICR recommends that cancer survivors aim for 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week (if possible). Despite the evidence and recommendations, about 84 percent of cancer survivors aren’t active enough.

Could a personal fitness tracker help change that? Many people find it easier to move more and sit less with the help of a wearable device like a smartwatch or a fitness tracker that clips on. 

Are Fitness Trackers Worth It?

Fitness trackers sense your movements throughout the day, measuring your steps, activity, heart rate and calories burned. They can nudge you to stand up and move every hour when you sit for too long, and they help you stay on track by setting activity goals and alerting you when you’ve met them.

Cancer survivors who use fitness trackers report:

  • More daily steps and total physical activity
  • An increase in exercise intensity
  • Better physical function
  • Better quality of life
  • Less fatigue

Increasing exercise also reduces sex hormones, insulin levels and inflammation. Plus, it helps your immune system work better.

“Cancer survivors also have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, possibly due to cancer treatments, increased stress levels and other lifestyle factors, but exercise improves blood sugar,” according to Dr. Liao Yue, a researcher and Assistant Professor of Public Health in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Texas at Arlington, and an AICR grantee.

Dr. Liao and her team are working on an AICR-funded study to see if pairing a fitness tracker with a continuous glucose monitor (a wearable device that measures blood sugar) can further motivate cancer survivors at risk for diabetes to stay active. Participants will be able to see the immediate impact of exercise on their blood sugar levels.

Exercise Tips for Cancer Survivors

These tips can help keep you moving:

  • Try short walks, increasing your time and intensity as you get stronger
  • Try a variety of activities to find what you enjoy and want to stick with
  • Look for fitness classes at your community center, gym or pool
  • Aim for some exercise most days of the week instead of squeezing it all into one or two days
  • No tracking device? An exercise journal can keep you motivated and consistent

Dr. Liao encourages cancer survivors to increase their heart rate for 150 minutes a week but doesn’t want anyone to get discouraged if they can’t make that goal. “Any type or amount of exercise has physical and mental health benefits. Just take every opportunity you can to move more,” she says.

You can invest in a smartwatch, or can spend less on clip on fitness trackers that count steps. Either way, it’s a sound investment in your health.

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