SOURCE: University of Calgary

University of Calgary

November 24, 2015 10:30 ET

University of Calgary researchers look at impact of exercise on family caregivers of cancer patients

RECHARGE study to examine role exercise plays in physical and emotional health of caregivers

CALGARY, AB--(Marketwired - November 24, 2015) - It's estimated that over 8.1 million Canadians dedicate their time and resources to caring for loved ones burdened by health challenges. Often family members put their own needs aside to attend to the needs of another, which can unfortunately result in a variety of negative health implications for the caregiver. In recognition of the heightened health risks associated with family caregiving, researchers from the Health & Wellness Lab at the University of Calgary are examining the impact of a structured exercise program for cancer family caregivers.

"Family members are becoming increasingly responsible for providing outpatient care for cancer patients; they maintain an important, often full-time role, within the patient's healthcare team from the onset of diagnosis," says Colleen Cuthbert, Nurse Practitioner in Cancer Care, Nursing PhD Candidate at the University of Calgary, and CIHR and Killam Doctoral Scholar. "Family caregivers are essential to our current model of care delivery and because of the care they provide, they save the health care system an estimated $26 billion dollars a year."

Cuthbert, along with University of Calgary co-supervisors Dr. Nicole Culos-Reed, Professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology, Director of the Health & Wellness Lab, and Research Associate at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, and Dr. Dianne Tapp, Dean, Faculty of Nursing, recently developed the RECHARGE study (Renewing Caregiver Health and Wellbeing Through Exercise) to evaluate the role exercise plays in the physical and emotional health of individuals responsible for tending to the needs of a family member or other loved one diagnosed with cancer.

Family caregivers who are eligible to participate in the 24-week study are randomized to one of two groups -- one group does not engage in exercise until an initial 12 weeks have passed (the delayed start group) and the other group begins the exercise program immediately. Both groups are required to undergo comprehensive fitness assessments at baseline, 12 weeks and 24 weeks. These assessments are measuring changes in participants' emotional well-being, physical fitness levels, and body composition. Results are used by the research team to design and further modify individual exercise programs, tailored to each participant's current fitness level. The intervention requires participants to attend bi-weekly group exercise classes throughout the 24 weeks of the study, including education sessions promoting healthy behaviors. Alongside the physical and psychological benefits of these group activities, participants may also benefit from interacting with family caregivers in situations similar to their own, providing them the opportunity to develop long-term social support networks.

"It has been well-documented that providing care for a loved one with an illness such as cancer can challenge the caregiver's physical and mental health in a variety of ways," explains Culos-Reed, adding that many family caregivers experience increased symptoms of depression, anxiety, relationship strains and diminished physical health from attending to the tasks related to managing cancers. The extensive health benefits associated with regular physical activity have been thoroughly documented, and continue to be explored by researchers from a variety of disciplines. However, very little research has examined the relationship between exercise and improved physical and emotional health, and the overall quality of life of family caregivers.

"Results from RECHARGE will help to expand our current understanding of how exercise can benefit family caregivers, as well as contribute to a greater scientific and social foundation for improving the experience of cancer for entire families," Cuthbert explains. "It will help us better understand how a sustainable exercise program can translate into long-term improvements to the physical and mental well-being for this particular population."

For more information about the RECHARGE study, go to http://www.ucalgary.ca/healthandwellnesslab/recharge-study.

Funding for the RECHARGE study is provided by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Psychosocial Oncology Research Training program and The Izaak Walton Killam Pre-Doctoral Scholarship.

About the University of Calgary
The University of Calgary is making tremendous progress on its journey to become one of Canada's top five research universities, where research and innovative teaching go hand in hand, and where we fully engage the communities we both serve and lead. This strategy is calledEyes High, inspired by the university's Gaelic motto, which translates as 'I will lift up my eyes.' For more information, visit ucalgary.ca. Stay up to date with University of Calgary news headlines on Twitter @UCalgary. For details on faculties and how to reach experts go to our media center at ucalgary.ca/news/media.

About the Health & Wellness Lab
The Health & Wellness Lab is a multidisciplinary research facility committed to building a clinic-to-community model grounded in research-based evidence to demonstrate the physical and psychological benefits of regular exercise for cancer survivors and their support persons. Based in the Faculty of Kinesiology at the University of Calgary, the lab leads a multitude of research projects and community programs in collaboration with private and public funding agencies, hospitals and community centres across local, national and global healthcare networks.

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