Regular Exercise May Help Breast Cancer Survivors Regain Memory Loss After Treatment

Women who have undergone a breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment often report memory loss as a side effect, and chemotherapy and radiation treatments have often been deemed the culprits. However, a study out of Northwestern reveals that the perceived memory loss may be stress-related, and that breast cancer survivors who exercise regularly can alleviate stress and reduce or avoid loss of memory.

Researchers from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine published the study in July 2016 in the journal Psycho-Oncology. They gathered exercise and memory data from more than 1,800 survivors of breast cancer. One study group of 1,477 women self-reported data on their perceived memory loss and exercise, while another group of 362 survivors wore accelerometers to gauge their physical activity.

Researchers found consistency in the data from both groups. Although the treatments that cancer victims undergo usually receive blame for commonly reported memory loss, the researchers were surprised to discover the link between the distress, fatigue, fear and lack of self-confidence that survivors experience and their problems with subjective memory.

Senior woman looking out through a window like depress

Because the memory loss that breast cancer survivors experience is mainly psychological, researchers found that moderate to vigorous regular exercise boosts self-confidence and, in turn, memory.

To be effective, the exercise should be vigorous enough to induce sweat and heavy breathing. Examples of suitable activities include jogging, cycling, vigorous walking and classes that teach organized exercise regimes.

These increase the self-efficacy of patients, which psychologists define as the belief in personal ability to meet goals and performance levels. Breast cancer survivors who exercise regularly have less fatigue, less anxiety and more self-confidence.

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Undergoing treatments for breast cancer can be a traumatic experience, and regular exercise, when patients are ready, helps to restore health and a sense of empowerment. Getting enough rest and eating properly are also important.

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