After breast cancer, your body is different and the impacts of your treatment can continue to change the way you feel. You may look into lifestyle changes that could help you bounce back bit by bit. One good option may be some good old fashioned soccer.
Researchers from the University of Southern Denmark, the University Hospitals Centre for Health Research at Rigshospitalet, and the University of Copenhagen recently studied the impacts of the Football Fitness program on breast cancer survivors to see how the sport helped women post-treatment. It turned out that there were several benefits. Their findings were published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports.
Professor Peter Krustup, Head of Research at University of Southern Denmark’s Department of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics, says, “The main conclusion is that Football Fitness is an intense and good form of training for women treated for breast cancer, with beneficial effects on balance, muscle strength and bone density.”
The team held the Football Fitness program twice a week for a year, adding up to about an hour each week. Each session had a warm-up, fitness and soccer drills, and games of 5 versus 5 or 7 versus 7. Sixty-eight women ranging in age from 23 to 74 took part, with 46 assigned to the training group and 22 in the control group.
Before and after the study, researchers measured health factors like fitness, bone and muscle strength, balance, body fat percentage, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Women also filled out questionnaires regarding their quality of life and daily energy levels. Finally, the team looked to see how many women developed lymphedema on the side where they’d been treated, as there has been concern in the past that too much exertion can lead to lymphedema.
After the 12-month period, the study found that women in the training group saw increased balance, leg muscle strength, increased bone density in the lumbar spine, and stronger femurs.
Dr. Jacob Uth, project leader and assistant professor at University College Copenhagen, says, “It’s encouraging that even a modest amount of training can produce these improvements because we know that treatment for breast cancer can accelerate the natural age-related loss of bone mass and thereby increase the risk of osteoporosis.”
Uth adds that the combination of bone strength, muscle strength, and improved balance can lower the risk of falls and broken bones.
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However, while women in the training group reported that it was easier for them to accomplish day-to-day tasks, their physical fitness was not found to be better than that of the control group.
Krustup explains, “While just one weekly training session on average was enough to produce positive effects on muscles and bones, and also to give a reduction in self-rated problems with everyday activities, it was not enough to produce a significant improvement in aerobic fitness for the football group. Our previous studies show a good improvement in maximal oxygen uptake of average 11% for 3-6 months’ football training comprising 2-3 weekly sessions, but the attendance in this study was obviously lower.”
As for lymphedema, researchers said women who participated in the sessions did not have a higher risk of developing this side effect.
Researchers feel this program could be expanded throughout Denmark, but they say more studies are needed because this was the first one of its type with breast cancer survivors.