Our previous studies indicate that women aged 25-49 years previously treated for cancer report treatment-induced cognitive alterations that impede their social and employment roles. Good evidence indicates, however that these cognitive alterations are potentially modifiable through physical activity. The primary aim of this randomised controlled study was to explore associations between the exercise components of a mulitmodal lifestyle intervention and cognitive function in younger women with either breast, gynaecological or blood cancer.
Data were collected at baseline (N=41), after which participants were randomised to intervention or control, and at 12 weeks (following the intervention) using both online surveys and research assistant. The intervention encompassed a 12-week program targeting health and lifestyle behaviours including exercise, diet, sleep, stress management, menopausal symptoms and health screening.
Average age of participants was 37.9 years old. The majority were partnered, born in Australia and relatively well-educated. Women in both groups reported mean increases in physical activity levels, with the intervention group reporting a larger effect (d = 0.59). While there was no statistically significant relationship between physical activity and cognitive function (Intervention p = 0.68; Control p = 0.12), women in the intervention group reported statistically significant increases in cognitive function following the intervention, with a moderate to large effect (mean difference +12.3, d = 0.77, p <0.05). Higher cognitive function scores were identified in participants <36 years, Australian-born, well-educated and reporting gross household income >$150,000.
While it is not possible to generalise from this small sample, the data indicate a trend towards improved cognitive function, and cognition-related quality of life in participants who engaged in targeted physical activity.