Silver Linings: Remotely delivered exercise to older rural cancer survivors shows improved physical health

November 19, 2022 by Kate Strotmeyer

Data shows that a virtual exercise program for rural cancer patients delivers positive results.

Older cancer survivors living in rural areas have limited opportunities to engage in health-promoting exercise. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Enhance Fitness, an evidence-based, group exercise program, transitioned to remote delivery through videoconference technology. 

“The pivot from a community-based program to an online platform provided a unique and timely opportunity to pilot test Remote-Enhance Fitness (tele-EF) for rural, older cancer survivors,” said Nancy Gell, PhD, MPH, University of Vermont Cancer Center member and Associate Professor at the College of Nursing and Health Sciences.  

Along with Kim Dittus, MD medical oncologist at the University of Vermont Medical Center and the Kushang Patel, PhD, MPH at University of Washington the team enrolled 39 rural cancer survivors over the age of 60. 20 participants joined a one-hour exercise class three days per week for 16 weeks and the remaining enrollees were assigned to a waitlist control group. 

The data, published in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship, supports this. Not only is tele-fitness feasible, but the initial results in physical function and physical activity were positive. Participants improved 23% on a sit-to-stand test, a common way to measure physical function and reported a 33% increase in step counts as compared to the control group. 

“Our goal is to build evidence for Tele-EF to be designated as a nationwide exercise program for aging cancer survivors,” said Gell. “This data warrants further study given the barriers to access to exercise options for cancer survivors in rural communities.”  

The group intends to explore future interventions expanding the number and diversity of participants.