Study shows importance of nutrition and physical activity for cancer patients and caregivers

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A recent study explored the benefits of nutrition and physical activity for cancer patients and their caregivers, and highlighted the need for dietary and physical health interventions for both parties.

The study was published in Rehabilitation Oncology, and conducted by researchers from Drexel University’s (DU) College of Nursing and Health Professions. For the study, researchers aimed to better understand cancer patients and their caregivers’ perspectives on physical activity and nutrition, their personal behaviors, and the challenges they face in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.  

The study involved 52 caregivers and 50 patients. Each participant was asked to complete a series of surveys and interviews which analyzed their planned behaviors, food attitudes and behaviors, and what they did during their leisure time. Researchers then performed descriptive statistics and quantitative comparison on the survey answers as well as inductive and deductive thematic analysis on the participant interviews.

According to the results, the sample was physically active, and the cancer patients did not show significant differences in their levels of physical activity postdiagnosis. Patients with higher levels of fatigue had lower levels of physical activity. Patients with stronger intention and perceived behavioral control had higher amounts physical activity. While most participants recognized that dietary choices correlated to their health, there was confusion about national diet recommendations. Participants indicated a need for specific nutrition and lifestyle guidance for cancer type from healthcare providers, researchers, and cancer centers.

Both groups indicated that when they had lower perceived nutritional barriers, they had higher levels of nutrition self-efficacy. The data suggested that caregivers tended to focus on the physical activity of their patients and neglect their own needs. Both patients and caregiver expressed how fatigue and time restraints held them back from more physical activity. In addition, both groups expressed interest in learning more about the benefits of exercise to mental health.

“Our findings suggest that patient-caregiver pairs should be engaged, together, in research and interventions, as their interactions are instrumental in promoting sustainable lifestyle changes,” said Brandy-Joe Milliron, PhD, an associate professor in the Nutrition Sciences Department at DU and lead author of the study.

According to the study’s researchers, these findings are a good indicator of what future educational programs for cancer patients and their caregivers on dietary and physical health should focus on, as well as how they should be designed.