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Community-based exercise program effectiveness and safety for cancer survivors



Clinical trials have demonstrated the benefits of exercise for cancer survivors. This investigation determined the effectiveness and safety of a disseminated community-based exercise program for cancer survivors who had completed treatment.


Personal trainers from regional YMCAs received training in cancer rehabilitation and supervised twice-a-week, 12-week group exercise sessions for survivors. At baseline and post-program, validated measures assessed patient-reported outcomes (PRO) and physiologic measurements.


Data were collected from 221 survivors from 13 YMCA sites and 36 separate classes. All participants had data available at one time point, while matched baseline and post-program PRO and physiologic data were available for 85% (N = 187). Participants with matched data were largely female (82%), with mean age of 58 (range, 28–91 years). Time since diagnosis ranged from 1 to 48 (mean, 5.6 years), and mean time since last treatment was 3.0 (range, 1–33 years). Physiological improvements were significant in systolic (P < 0.001) and diastolic (P = 0.035) blood pressure, upper and lower body strength, the 6-min walk test (P = 0.004), and flexibility (P < 0.001). Participants reported improvements in overall health-related quality of life (P < 0.001), social support (P = 0.019), body pain (P = 0.016), fatigue (P < 0.001), insomnia (P < 0.001), and overall musculoskeletal symptoms (P = <0.001). Few injuries or lymphedema events occurred during classes.


Community-based exercise groups for cancer survivors of mixed diagnoses and ages, who have completed active treatment, have physiologic and psychosocial benefits, and are safe.

Implications for cancer survivors

Survivors may expect significant benefit from participating in a community-based exercise program tailored to meet their individual needs as a survivor.

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Support for this research was provided by the LIVESTRONG Foundation and the Amgen Foundation of Washington State. We thank the survivors participating in this study and each of the Exercise and Thrive personal trainers and sites participating in this project, including:

Northshore YMCA, Bothell, WA

Bellevue Family YMCA, Bellevue, WA

West Seattle Family YMCA, Seattle, WA

Downtown Seattle YMCA, Seattle, WA

Dale Turner Family YMCA, Shoreline, WA

Meredith Mathews-East Madison YMCA, Seattle, WA

Auburn Valley YMCA, Auburn, WA

Gig Harbor Family YMCA, Gig Harbor, WA

Marysville Family YMCA, Marysville, WA

University Family YMCA, Seattle, WA

Briggs Community YMCA, Olympia, WA

Olympia Downtown YMCA, Olympia, WA

Clallam County Family YMCA, Port Angeles, WA

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Correspondence to Karen L. Syrjala.

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Rajotte, E.J., Yi, J.C., Baker, K.S. et al. Community-based exercise program effectiveness and safety for cancer survivors. J Cancer Surviv 6, 219–228 (2012).

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  • Cancer survivors
  • Exercise
  • Physical activity
  • Community
  • YMCA