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Weight Training Benefits Breast-Cancer Survivors

Besides physical benefits, the women reported better quality of life, study found

MONDAY, March 27, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Pumping iron a couple times a week can help breast-cancer survivors look and feel better, new research suggests.

The study is one of the first to focus on weight training to improve quality of life in breast-cancer survivors, although numerous other studies have found some positive effects from physical aerobic exercise such as walking.

The results were released online Monday, and will in the May print issue of Cancer.

Breast-cancer survivors often struggle with a variety of quality-of-life complaints, including insomnia, weight gain, chronic fatigue, depression and anxiety.

To see if weight training might help boost patients' quality of life, researchers assigned 86 women who had finished their cancer treatment to either a weight-training program or no weight training. Those in the weight-training group were taught how to perform nine common weight-based exercises using free weights and resistance machines to work the muscles of their chest, back, shoulders, arms, buttocks, hips and thighs.

"They put in two sessions a week, one hour each time, for six months," said study co-author Dr. Tetsuya Ohira, a visiting scholar in the division of epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota.

Ohira and his team assessed the women's body fat, weight, bone density and upper and lower body strength, among other measurements. And they asked the women about daily problems and their quality of life, such as state of mind and satisfaction with relationships.

"Our study showed that upper body strength and muscles improved more than lower body," Ohira said. Since previous studies have found aerobic exercise such as walking is also good for improving the quality of life in breast-cancer survivors, Ohira said he now believes that adding weight training to aerobic exercise "could improve the quality of life even more."

The women who trained with weights had increases in lean muscle mass, compared with those who did not. Those who pumped iron also "had a moderately improved quality of life," Ohira said.

Another expert who has studied the topic praised the study, and said she wasn't surprised by the results.

"I thought it was a very interesting study, and very timely," said Andrea Mastro, a professor of microbiology and cell biology at Penn State University.

The results are similar to those she found in her own study, which included resistance training for breast-cancer survivors. Like weight training, resistance training (in her study it was done with large elastic bands to work the muscles) is a form of strength training. Strength training has been shown to strengthen bones and muscles, increase muscle mass and enhance quality of life, according to the American Council on Exercise.

"We also saw an increased quality of life in our group" who did the resistance training, Mastro said. "And we used a different tool to measure it."

She presented those findings last year at the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program meeting in Philadelphia. She also found that women who did strength training increased their infection-fighting T-cell levels. And they had better upper-body strength, less fatigue and better quality of life compared with those who didn't exercise.

Mastro tells breast-cancer survivors looking to begin or resume an exercise program: "Make sure you check with your doctor first. Don't just walk into the gym and start weight training," she stressed. You need to be taught the proper form, ideally by a trainer who is certified by a reputable group such as the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Council on Exercise, or the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

Two or three sessions a week, about 20 or 30 minutes each time, is acceptable, Mastro said.

More information

To learn more about weight training visit the American Council on Exercise.

SOURCES: Tetsuya Ohira, M.D., visiting scholar, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; Andrea Mastro, Ph.D., professor, microbiology and cell biology, Penn State Univesity, University Park; May 1, 2006, Cancer
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