Research snapshot: physical activity may decrease fatigue, support development in young cancer patients

Children undergoing cancer treatment often experience fatigue. Researchers are now investigating whether maintaining a level of physical activity during treatment and recovery may ease symptoms. Having more energy can support a child’s healthy growth and development during and after cancer.

That’s why Casey Hooke, Ph.D., APRN, assistant professor in the University of Minnesota School of Nursing, and member of the Masonic Cancer Center, is dedicated to finding ways to help children have more energy during cancer treatments.

“I want to do more to help patients and families during treatment to establish health habits that may contribute to symptom relief during treatment and also establish a healthy lifestyle that continues into survivorship,” Hooke said.

Currently, Hooke is conducting a two-year study, funded by Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, to examine how physical activity may help ease fatigue during cancer treatment. The study starts by teaching pediatric nurse practitioners how to coach children and their parents to become more physically active during treatment. This is done as part of the normal health care given by the nurse practitioners in the outpatient oncology clinic.

Children and their parents are invited to enroll in the study so that the child can be measured using activity trackers. The child is measured every two months during the six months of treatment and fills out a questionnaire on their level of fatigue. Hooke wants to learn whether participants have become more active as a result of the nurse practitioner’s coaching and if children who are more active have less fatigue.

It’s extremely important for kids, even those with cancer, to have enough energy to go to school and play with friends.

“Kids need energy to do the work of childhood,” Hooke said. “There’s a lot that kids need to do and there are no ‘time-outs’ from ongoing development during childhood.”

In an earlier study by Hooke, she measured children with cancer during the first three months of treatment. She found that kids who had better physical performance had less fatigue.

“There’s a relationship between physical strength, ability and fatigue,” Hooke explained. “So we asked ourselves, ‘could we get kids to be more active during treatment?’”

There have been numerous studies on how exercise and physical activity can improve health in many chronic diseases, but most of this research had been done on adults.

“There’s well established research in adults with cancer and now research is emerging in children,” Hooke said.

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