Rajotte, E. J., Yi, J. C., Baker, K. S., Gregerson, L., Leiserowitz, A., & Syrjala, K. L. (2012). Community-based exercise program effectiveness and safety for cancer survivors. Journal of Cancer Survivorship, 6, 219–228.

DOI Link

Study Purpose

To determine the effectiveness and safety of a disseminated community-based exercise program for cancer survivors who completed cancer treatment.

Intervention Characteristics/Basic Study Process

Twice weekly over a period of 12 weeks, YMCA personal trainers supervised groups of seven to 14 study participants during 90-minute exercise sessions at 13 YMCA sites. Study measures were administered at baseline and after the 12-week exercise program. The standardized protocol included aerobic warm-up (10 minutes), resistance training (50 minutes), and community building time (e.g., sharing personal experiences, didactic and experiential training in breathing, relaxation, stress management, and nutrition). Precautions or contraindicated movements were noted for each participant, and resistance training was individualized. YMCA personal trainers had at least one year of personal training experience and received a specialized 16-hour group training by a cancer rehabilitation physical therapist. Additional training to address emotional issues for participants and trainers was provided by a licensed clinical psychologist with expertise in cancer survivorship. Participants and immediate family received access to YMCA facility branches and were encouraged to exercise outside of the sessions.

Sample Characteristics

  • In total, 187 patients (17.6% male, 82.4% female) with both pre- and postintervention data were included. 
  • Mean age was 57.7 years (standard deviation [SD] = 10.3)
  • Patients had mixed cancers (55.5% breast cancer, 7.5% lymphoma, and 5% leukemia and prostate cancers).
  • Mean time since diagnosis was 5.6 months (SD = 6.9 months).
  • Eligibility included being off cancer treatment for longer than 90 days, with no evidence of active disease. Medical clearance was required to participate in the exercise program.  
  • Of the patients, 97.3% were Caucasian and non-Hispanic/non-Latino, 63.6% had completed four-year college or graduate school education, and 49.7% reported working full- or part-time for pay.


  • Multisite (13 YMCA sites as part of LIVESTRONG Exercise and Thrive [E & T] Program)
  • Community
  • Western Washington State

Phase of Care and Clinical Applications

Patients were undergoing long-term follow-up postcancer treatment.

Study Design

This was a prospective pre/post (nonrandomized) study design.

Measurement Instruments/Methods

Validated patient-reported outcomes measures included

  • Health-related quality of life: Short Form 36 Health Survey (SF-36), version 2
  • Fatigue: Fatigue Symptom Inventory (FSI)
  • Insomnia: Three items were developed for this study, rated from rarely or never (0) to nearly every day (4) for: “Does it take you more than half an hour to fall asleep at night?” “Do you wake during sleep and have difficulty falling back to sleep?” and “Do you wake earlier than you want in the morning and are you unable to get back to sleep?”
  • Physical activity level: SF-36, version 2, physical component summary
  • Physiologic measures:  six-minute walk test, resting heart rate, blood pressure, one repetition maximum test (upper and lower body strength), and sit and reach test (flexibility)
  • Muscle and joint problems: Muscle and Joint Measure with subscales assessed (1) muscle aches or stiffness (myalgias); (2) joint pain; (3) stiffness or swelling (arthralgias) and muscle cramps; and (4) muscle weakness
  • Social support:  brief seven-item measure used in the Enhancing Recovery in Coronary Heart Disease Patients (ENRICHD) study (study testing a psychosocial intervention on patients with postacute myocardial infarction)
  • Injuries and/or lymphedema during classes:  Assessment was developed for the study using yes/no response items, including: “During your participation in E & T did you have any injuries?” and “As far as you know did you have any swelling or lymphedema that developed during E & T?” For those participants responding positive to the lymphedema question, subsequent questions were asked to determine if the lymphedema symptoms developed before or during the E & T program and (if lymphedema developed during the program) if the symptoms were a flare-up of existing lymphedema or a new site of lymphedema.
  • Program evaluation: Five items were developed for the study, including: “How satisfied are you with your participation in the program overall?,” “Were the staff leading the program competent and knowledgeable?,” and “How easy or difficult was it for you to participate in the program?.”


The study indicated that the community-based exercise program has important beneficial effects on physiologic, symptom, and quality of life health outcomes for cancer survivors and is safe to implement. Findings suggested that the program is helpful for improving fatigue, insomnia, physical function, overall musculoskeletal symptoms, mental health, social support, and physical activity in cancer survivors. Average baseline insomnia ratings of 1.63 (SD = 0.93) differed significantly from postintervention ratings of 1.43 (SD = 0.85) (p < 0.001).  Additionally, the exercise program indicated notable improvements in physiologic measures (blood pressure, upper and lower body strength, walking endurance, and flexibility).


Community-based exercise groups for cancer survivors of mixed diagnoses and ages, who have completed active treatment, have physiologic and psychosocial benefits and appear to be safe. Because the participants self-selected to be part of the study and were screened for their ability to participate, findings cannot be generalized to the larger cancer survivor population.


  • The study had a risk of bias due to no control group, no blinding, no random assignment, no appropriate attentional control condition, and the sample characteristics*.
  • Participant withdrawals were 10% or greater.
  • * Measurement validity/reliability was questionable. Findings were not generalizable. The intervention was expensive, impractical, and/or training needs. Participants were 82.4% female and non-Hispanic (Caucasian); the ethnic and racial homogeneity of the sample limited the generalizability of the findings. More than half of the participants had a breast cancer diagnosis. Self-referral and convenience sampling provided a population of participants who were motivated to self-initiate participation in an exercise program. Several measures were developed for the study, including the measure of insomnia; thus, there was a lack of previous established reliability and validity. Although access to the YMCA was provided to participants, the intervention was expensive in terms of participant time and effort, and personal trainers required special cancer-related training and one year of personal training experience. Having the intervention delivered to groups offsets the cost to a certain degree. Thirty-four of of 221 participants were excluded from the analysis because data were only available at one time point; there was a 15% withdrawal rate.

Nursing Implications

Survivors may benefit from participating in a community-based exercise program tailored to meet their individual needs as a survivor; however, exercise programs should be preceded by consultation with health care providers. Additional nursing research is needed to determine the effect of resistance training and other exercise protocols in more diverse cancer survivor populations.