Physical Activity Leads to Higher Quality of Life in African American Cancer Survivors

A study published in Cancer suggests meeting the ACS guidelines for physical activity correlates with improved health-related quality of life and lower depression levels.

African American cancer survivors who reported they participated in 150 minutes or more of moderate physical activity per week saw higher health-related quality of life and lower depression levels compared to those who didn’t participate in a minimum of 150 minutes of physical activity, according to a study published in Cancer.

The study found that just 24% of African American cancer survivors reported meeting the 150-minute threshold set by the American Cancer Society (ACS) but increases in activity were found over time.

“Because (physical activity) and maintenance of an optimal body weight after cancer have been consistently shown to reduce morbidity and mortality, regardless of race, it is important to reduce barriers to participation among all individuals but particularly in high-risk populations,” wrote the researchers.

The population consisted of 1500 African American survivors of various cancers with a median age of 58.2 years. The participants who reported practicing 150 minutes or more of moderate physical activity per week were found to be significantly younger, and more frequently male, college educated, and employed (all P values < .05).

Participants who were still receiving any form of treatment and those receiving chemotherapy met the ACS guidelines significantly less frequently (P = .004 and P < .001, respectively).

Fifty percent of the population reported minimal physical activity, but not enough to meet the ACS guidelines presented in this study. Health-related quality of life improved considerably among the population that increased their physical activity level to meet those guidelines.

Even more, 40% of survivors reported no participation in any physical activity during the baseline interview. Health-related quality of life scores were lowest among this population, signaling a significant correlation between physical activity and health-related quality of life.

“Our findings suggest that regular participation in moderate to vigorous (physical activity) is associated with reports of better (health-related quality of life) and less anxiety and depression among African Americans diagnosed with the 4 most common cancers,” wrote the researchers. “Moreover, changes in the amount of (physical activity) between the baseline and the first follow-up were well correlated with (health-related quality of life), depression, and anxiety.”

Of the study’s survivor population that responded, 45% were diagnosed with breast cancer, 34% were diagnosed with prostate cancer, 12% were diagnosed with lung cancer, and 9% were diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Prostate cancer survivors most frequently reported meeting the ACS guidelines for physical activity (28%), while survivors of lung cancer least frequently reported meeting the guidelines (18%; P = .022).

There were significant limitations to the study, with the first being the self-reported data style the researchers implemented. Self-reporting from participants is subject to misclassification, but the researchers utilized an extensively validated survey instrument. Next, it’s possible that the participants who reported better quality of life levels have a greater capacity for physical activity than those who reported lower levels, suggesting a nuance within the correlations found.

Behavior change is a significant barrier to overcome, and the researchers suggest understanding the patterns and predictors of physical activity in African American cancer survivors as important first steps in the process. Future work developing interventions to help reduce these barriers are critical tasks towards progress.

“Even though cancer mortality rates have declined faster among African Americans than non-Hispanic whites, they continue to have a disproportionately higher incidence of and poorer survival with most cancers in comparison with other racial and ethnic groups in the United States,” wrote the researchers.


Beebe-Dimmer JL, Ruterbusch JJ, Harper FWK, et al. Physical Activity and Quality of Life in African American Cancer Survivors: The Detroit Research on Cancer Survivors Study. Cancer. DOI: 10.1002/cncr.32725.