A qualitative meta-study of social support in physical activity for adult cancer survivors


Physical activity is important for physical well-being, quality of life, and coping among cancer survivors. Social support plays a role in physical activity experiences in this population, in terms of encouraging adoption and maintenance of physical activity behaviour, and that physical activity programs can be important sources of social support for coping with cancer. Many qualitative studies have examined cancer survivors' lived experience with social support in the context of physical activity. The purpose of this meta-study was to synthesize the research on cancer survivors' lived experience with social support related to physical activity. Following recommendations for meta-study procedures (Paterson et al., 2001) we searched nine databases and retrieved 48 qualitative studies addressing social support and physical activity in adult cancer survivors. Common ways in which peer survivors provided support included creating a positive environment, sharing first-hand experiences with cancer, and commitment to exercise together, while support from exercise leaders included providing knowledgeable, safe activity experiences, and teaching and empowering participants. Findings were shaped by variations in method across studies, such as sampling frame (i.e., exercise intervention participants, community programs, or lifestyle physical activity), and theoretical perspectives adopted. This study synthesizes themes representing social support processes in physical activity, discusses study elements that shape perspectives on the findings, and identifies directions for future qualitative study.

Acknowledgments: The authors would like to acknowledge assistance from Alix Hayden, University of Calgary Librarian, and support from a University of Calgary Faculty of Kinesiology seed grant.