Physical Activity Improves Cognitive Function for Breast Cancer Survivors

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CRCI negatively affects quality of life for patients, but physical activity can improve cognitive functioning.
CRCI negatively affects quality of life for patients, but physical activity can improve cognitive functioning.

Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) may lead to improved working memory and executive function in breast cancer survivors, according to a study published in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment.

Cancer-related cognitive impairment (CRCI) negatively impacts executive functioning and memory which has serious implications on the quality of life for patients, but evidence from previous studies showed that physical activity may be beneficial for this population. The authors of the study investigated the connection between cognitive function, physical activity, and fatigue symptoms in breast cancer survivors.

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The study enrolled 299 women with breast cancer who completed multiple neuropsychological tests and questionnaires to assess their level of fatigue and cognitive function. They wore an accelerometer for 1 week to measure their MVPA.  

The results of the study show that a greater MVPA was directly associated with improved fatigue symptoms (ɣ = 0.19; z = 3.44; P <.001), and improved fatigue symptoms led to faster times on executive function tasks (ɣ = -0.18; z = -2.50; P =.005) and increased accuracy on working memory tasks (ɣ = 0.16; z = 1.88; P =.03). Cognitive function also had significant association with MVPA through fatigue (executive function: β = -0.03, z = -2.01, P =.02; memory: β = 0.03, z = 1.65, P <.05).

Data from the study suggests that MVPA may be associated with improvements in executive function and working memory in breast cancer survivors. The authors conclude that these “results emphasize the need for additional scientific investigation of relationships between MVPA and CRCI, particularly prospective and efficacy trials that test effects temporally and against a comparison group.”


1. Ehlers D, Aguinaga S, Cosman J, et al. The effects of physical activity and fatigue on cognitive performance in breast cancer survivors [published online July 4, 2017]. Breast Cancer Res Treat. doi: 10.1007/s10549-017-4363-9

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