Memory problems in breast cancer survivors appear associated with the high stress load these patients experience rather than their treatment, and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity may help subjective memory in these patients.1

Subjective memory is a person’s perception of his or her memory. Physical activity alleviates stress and provides psychological benefits, such as increased self-confidence, lower distress, and less fatigue, which can improve a person’s perception of memory impairment.

For the study, investigators reviewed data on memory and exercise from 2 groups: self-reports from 1477 women from across the country and accelerometers worm by 362 women.

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The investigators found higher levels of self-confidence, lower distress, and less fatigue in breast cancer survivors who had higher levels of moderate and vigorous physical activity — such as brisk walking, biking, jobbing, or an exercise class. These effects were associated with lower levels of perceived memory impairment, and the findings were consistent in both groups.

“We found moderate to vigorous physical activity actually benefits women psychologically and that, in turn, helps their memory,” reported Siobhan Phillips, assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and lead author of the study.

The study was supported by grant F31AG034025 from the National Institute on Aging and grant K07CA196840 from the National Cancer Institute, of the National Institutes of Health.


1. Phillips SM, Lloyd GR, Awick EA, McAuley E. Relationship between self-reported and objectively measured physical activity and subjective memory impairment in breast cancer survivors: role of self-efficacy, fatigue and distress. Psychooncology. 2016 Jul 8. doi: 10.1002/pon.4156.