Insights into the reluctance of patients with late-stage cancer to adopt exercise as a means to reduce their symptoms and improve their function

Andrea L. Cheville, Ann Marie Dose, Jeffrey R. Basford, Lori M. Rhudy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Context: Exercise reduces cancer-related disablement and adverse symptoms, yet patients' attitudes toward exercise remain largely unexamined. Objectives: This qualitative study sought to characterize the beliefs of patients with late-stage disease regarding exercise, its relationship to their symptoms, and their clinicians' roles in providing related counseling. Methods: Semistructured interviews with 20 adults (half male and half aged 65 years or older) with Stage IIIB or IV nonsmall cell lung cancer were qualitatively analyzed. Participants were questioned about their levels of activity, the influence of their symptoms on their activities, perceived barriers and facilitators for exercise, and exercise-related instructions received from their professional caregivers. Results: Participants overwhelmingly cited usual daily activities as their source of "exercise." Symptoms, particularly treatment-related, discouraged participation, with fear of harm being a significant concern only among younger women. Exercise was recognized as important for physical and mental well-being but seldom as a means to mitigate symptoms. Weather, recalled levels of premorbid fitness, and exercise participation modulated current exercise behaviors. Although respondents preferred to receive guidance from their oncologist, none reported receiving more than general encouragement to "stay active." A lack of direction was typically accepted as a sanction of their current activity levels. Participants appeared less receptive to guidance from ancillary health professionals. Conclusion: Effective use of exercise and activity modification to ameliorate cancer-related symptoms appears to require a linkage to a patient's usual and past activities, proactive negotiation of potential barriers, education regarding symptoms and exercise, and the positive support of their oncologist.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)84-94
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of pain and symptom management
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2012


  • Cancer
  • exercise
  • late stage
  • qualitative study
  • symptom control

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Nursing
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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