Surviving cancer through staying active: could there be an app for that?

Our research suggests fitness apps and wearable tech can help breast cancer survivors to be more active

An app for that? Well maybe not quite. Being physically active reduces your risk of cancer. So, do apps that track your levels of activity help reduce your risk of cancer? To date, there isn’t enough evidence on whether fitness apps and trackers, and that includes wearable tech, actually increase your levels of activity.

To address this, and in particular relation to cancer, World Cancer Research Fund researcher Prof Brigid Lynch looked at whether or not wearable fitness trackers improve the quality of life of breast cancer survivors – basically, did it get them to move more and sit less?

More and more women are surviving breast cancer thanks to advances in diagnosis and treatment. However, many women experience poor health and quality of life during and after cancer. Being active is just one way to improve this, so effective approaches to help people be more active, especially if they are fairly low cost, are important for cancer survivors. Prof Lynch’s work provides evidence that wearable fitness trackers may improve the quality of life of breast cancer survivors by encouraging them to be more active. At the end of the 12-week research trial, the group wearing fitness trackers performed 69 minutes more physical activity than the control group who did not wear the trackers, and sat for 37 minutes less per day.

The Head of Research Funding at World Cancer Research Fund, Dr Anna Diaz Font, says: “It's vital that we know not only what can improve cancer survivors’ quality of life and reduce their risk of recurrence, but how we can empower them to make these behaviour changes. This research shows the impact of wearable technology on increasing physical activity time, which is innovative and cost effective.

“We are so proud to be able to fund research such as Prof Lynch’s, which will have a real impact on people living with and beyond cancer.”

To sit or not to sit?

But it’s not just about the amount of time you spend being active; what about the rest of your day? How long do you spend doing nothing, sitting still, being inactive? A new field of health research is looking at how long people are inactive, and if this has an effect on diseases such as cancer. Research suggests that adults typically spend nine to ten hours every day being sedentary in various ways. For example, watching TV, sitting at a computer or driving a car.

Marathon time?

Only joking (unless you really want to...) as being physically active doesn’t just mean going to the gym or running for hours. Instead, aim to be active for 150 minutes a week, and that can include a brisk walk, gardening, swimming, dancing and even household chores! And as always, don’t expect to change your activity regime overnight – no one goes to bed a couch potato and wakes up running like Mo Farah! Instead, aim for small changes. Walk up the stairs instead of taking the lift. Walk to the train station instead of driving. Try some fun stretches while you wait for the kettle to boil! It all adds up.