University of Calgary researchers investigate link between physical activity and better health

Published for the University of Calgary's UCalgary Online.

University of Calgary researchers investigate link between physical activity and better health

It’s no surprise physical activity is beneficial to our overall health, but sometimes we aren’t able to quantify how much it helps us. University of Calgary researchers want to know whether physical activity can help cancer patients get through treatment more easily, and whether being active can also prolong their lives.

The Alberta Moving Beyond Breast Cancer (AMBER) study, led by Christine Friedenreich, PhD, division head, preventive oncology, and  adjunct professor at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) and Faculty of Kinesiology, assesses breast cancer patients by giving them initial fitness, strength and endurance tests and monitoring them over time. Blood tests are also done to record biologic markers that might help explain how physical activity and fitness are related to survival.

A recent grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) will support recruitment of additional patients for the study and longer monitoring.

“This study was first designed to recruit 1,500 women in either Edmonton or Calgary,” says Friedenreich. “We wanted five years of data collection and then five years of followup. To date we have recruited over 1,200, and this grant allows us to meet our original goal of 1,500 recruits with followup assessments of up to five years for each of the participants.”

Patients are given a high-tech activity tracker called an accelerometer to monitor movement and sedentary behaviours over time. Followup is done at one, three and five years to assess patients’ ongoing fitness and activity levels, and their overall health and survival outcomes.

Louise Jefferies-House volunteered for the study three years ago. “You have a lot of fun throughout the process, even at the checkups. The staff are helpful, kind and easygoing,” she says. “It’s not a chore. It’s not scary, uncomfortable or intimidating.”

Friedenreich is working with researchers throughout Alberta. “First we conceptualized the study as a team grant,” she explains. “The research has several components, and teams at other centres are taking the lead on the various pieces.”

Researchers look at a variety of study components

Kerry Courneya, PhD, a professor and Canada Research Chair in Physical Activity and Cancer in the faculties of kinesiology, sport, and recreation, and medicine and dentistry at the University of Alberta, is leading the main physical activity and health-related fitness component. The study includes taking unique body measurements, and assessing muscular strength and endurance.

Nicole Culos-Reed, PhD, a professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and at the CSM, is leading a component looking at barriers to physical activity.

Jeffrey Vallance, PhD, an associate professor in the Faculty of Health Disciplines at Athabasca University, and an adjunct assistant professor at the CSM is looking at patient-reported outcomes and trying to understand how quality of life including anxiety and depression might change over time.

Margaret McNeely, PhD, an assistant professor in the faculties of rehabilitation medicine, and medicine and dentistry at the University of Alberta, is looking at lymphedema, or fluid buildup in patients’ arms, which is a significant problem for breast cancer survivors.

The CIHR grant toward Friedenreich’s research is part of a $29 million federal investment in UCalgary researchers involved in health research announced in January.

Article published on the University of Calgary’s website, here.