Cancer recovery takes great strides

Diet and exercise can be crucial to recovery from major health procedures, but motivation is often an issue. A new approach developed in UniSA’s Sansom Institute is showing what can be achieved when you combine modern technology with old-fashioned personal support.

The 12-week Step Towards Diet and Exercise (STRIDE) program has been successfully trialled with cancer survivors in rural South Australia and is now being adapted for use in cardiac rehabilitation.

It builds on recent research in the Institute’s Alliance for Research in Exercise, Nutrition and Activity (ARENA) showing that people are much more likely to enjoy exercise and maintain physical activity if they are taught control processes and self-regulation techniques.

The initial trial, which received funding support from Cancer Australia, was designed to help cancer survivors learn to look after themselves when other support is limited, and to stay positive.

"The evidence is very strong for a range of cancer types that encouraging an exercise habit and physical activity improves quality of life, helps in weight management and in-turn lowers the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes," said Associate Professor Jim Dollman.

"Most survivors are aware of this, but unfortunately once they’ve completed treatment they’re often left alone; it can be a tough time for them because in their minds they’re still fighting the cancer."

A/Prof Dollman leads the program with A/Prof Gaynor Parfitt, who said two of the keys to its success were that it was flexible and that participants were encouraged and supported to integrate as much incidental activity into their lives as possible.

"There’s an acceptance that they will take days off, or do less activity, if they’re not feeling well or if they have to travel long distances for treatment," she said. "If you can take into account how they’re feeling and give them a goal that’s more achievable, they’re more likely to do it and stay motivated.”

The other key is the online component, which allows participants not only to access a range of materials, but also to connect socially. The researchers believe there is potential for regional health care services and councils to use the model, with IT support from the local library.

The cancer trial was a joint initiative with Country Health SA, Community Centres SA, and the Riverland and Yorke and Lower North Health Services.