Older cancer survivors who are overweight can use diet and exercise to slow functional decline, say researchers at Duke University School of Medicine.
A randomized controlled trial of 641 older (aged 65-91 years), overweight (BMI >25 and <40), long-term (≥ 5 years) survivors of breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer was conducted by Miriam Morey, PhD, of Duke University and her colleagues to test the effects of a home-based diet and exercise regimen on function decline.
The 12-month intervention program consisted of a home-based program of telephone counseling and mailed materials promoting exercise, improved diet quality, and modest weight loss. Researchers used the physical function section of the Medical Outcomes Study Short-Form 36 (SF-36) questionnaire to measure each patient’s change in functional status.
Based on a score range of 0 to 100, with a high score being an indication of better functioning, the average physical function score at the beginning of the study was 75.7. The results of the study (published in JAMA.2009;301(18):1883-91) showed that the average function scores declined less rapidly in the intervention group (-2.15 change) than in the control group (-4.84 change). There was a statistically significant difference between the groups for basic lower-extremity function as function changed negligibly in the intervention group, where as the control group showed a decrease in function.
The exercise change intervention led to an increase in duration of strength training and endurance exercise minutes while these factors remained stable in the control group. For diet changes, participants in the intervention group reported an average weight loss of 4.5 pounds compared with a 2.03 pound loss by those in the control group. The average intake of fruits and vegetables increased by 1.24 daily servings in the intervention group and by only 0.13 daily servings in the control group. In addition, the average consumption of saturated fat decreased by 3.06 grams per day in the intervention group and by only 1.07 grams per day in the control group.
According to the press release announcing the study, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services declared mobility maintenance and functional independence among at-risk older individuals as the sole priority in aging research. “Older cancer survivors represent an important target because cancer and its treatment are associated with accelerated functional decline,” the authors pointed out.