While the survival rate of breast cancer has been on the rise since 1987, it’s still the most frequently diagnosed cancer among Canadian women and ranks second in cancer-related deaths of women. But with 88 per cent of Canadian women now living at least five years after diagnosis, an increasing amount of focus is put on survivorship and better managing the physical and mental challenges associated with cancer treatments — some of which can linger for years.
One of the goals of cancer patients and survivors is to maintain their quality of life amid the stress the disease places on day-to-day living. Yet an often underrated contributor to enhancing the physical and mental health of breast cancer patients is exercise, which has been proven not just to improve quality of life, but to significantly reduce the risk of disease reoccurrence and mortality. So strong is the relationship between exercise and improved breast cancer outcomes that exercise is more and more likely to be included in standard cancer treatment protocols.
Yet for many women with breast cancer, finding the resources for a safe and progressive introduction or return to exercise isn’t easy, especially while juggling medical appointments and dealing with the debilitating fatigue associated with treatment. Understanding the difficulty in finding exercise instruction and support from professionals trained to deal with breast cancer survivors, the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation has launched a mobile app called My Active Health(found at the App Store and on Google Play).
Launched in March after 2 1/2 years of development, the app is designed to decrease sedentary time among cancer survivors. It’s free of charge, available in French and English and accessible anywhere in the world.
“No matter where you are in Canada, with the current pandemic and the isolation being suffered by those affected, it may be more difficult to offer personalized and supervised exercise programs,” said foundation president and CEO Karine Iseult Ippersiel. “The Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation is committed to supporting and accompanying breast cancer patients by offering a free alternative designed to promote physical activity through a mobile application.”
One of the key features of the app is the link to a library of exercises and exercise videos designed exclusively for breast cancer survivors. The app has built-in intuitiveness that will filter exercise options based on individual needs, depending on your workout history, daily mood and pain threshold.
Access to resources isn’t the only struggle when it comes to exercise. Finding time for workouts amid medical appointments and other responsibilities can be a nightmare, which is why the app includes a scheduling and care plan tool. You can add your workouts and other appointments to your weekly calendar, with a built-in reminder to keep you honest. It even allows you to add your medications and doctor’s reports to the app, so you can store your workout and medical history in one place.
Another nice feature of the app is the ability to build your own “care circle” by way of adding the contact info of friends and health-care professionals who are important to your physical, mental and emotional well-being. There are also links to cancer support groups and Facebook pages that make it easy to connect with other survivors.
“We work with patients to answer their needs, in particular the ones that the government and existing health-care services can’t provide,” said Ippersiel.
As the app is new, Ippersiel says the foundation is open to suggestions on how to make it better for users from coast to coast, including the possibility of syncing with other health apps and/or activity trackers and wearables like the Fitbit and Apple Watch. There’s a feedback tab in the Profile section of the app, making it easy to pass along ideas for improvements.
As for cancer patients and survivors who feel so overwhelmed and overtired that even the idea of getting a workout in seems too exhausting, the app was designed with them in mind. The library of exercises is based on the information entered in your care plan and your current level of fatigue and fitness, so you can easily stay within your comfort zone on any given day. And for those who have ignored exercise until now, research suggests that the cancer patients who stand to gain the most from being physically active are those who were sedentary prior to their diagnosis.
Finally, don’t fret about how long or how hard you need to exercise to reap the most benefits. Instead, prioritize consistency over intensity and duration. Each bout of exercise stands to stimulate a surge of cancer-fighting properties that accumulate over time. So the old adage that every workout counts is especially true for breast cancer patients and the large number of survivors who bank on staying cancer free for years to come.