Exploring barriers and facilitators to physical activity among women in treatment or post-treatment for cancer


Engaging in regular physical activity (PA) can reduce many cancer-related symptoms such as fatigue, depression, anxiety, and improve other factors such as strength, self-esteem, and overall health. Although being active is safe and feasible for cancer patients, up to 70% of cancer patients are not meeting recommended PA guidelines. The purpose of this study was to gain a better understanding of the barriers and facilitators to PA participation among women cancer survivors. We conducted interviews with 15 women who were undergoing or had completed treatment for any type and stage of cancer within the past five years. Participants were recruited from a hospital and an associated wellness center. Verbatim transcripts were analyzed and coded, and four primary themes emerged. First, the women discussed the levels and types of PA they performed prior to diagnosis, during, and after treatment. Many women had decreased activity levels during and after treatment. Second, the women discussed environments that were most conducive to exercising, mainly the wellness center. Third, fatigue and time were discussed as the principal barriers to engaging in PA. Finally, the primary motivational factors encouraging PA were discussed, such as reclaiming an identity related to being active. Overall, our findings are consistent with previous research. One important and novel finding from our research is the critical importance of a PA identity in motivating return to PA after cancer treatment. Cancer patients and survivors face unique PA experiences and could benefit from tailored exercise promotion interventions that focus on fostering a PA identity.