ASU graduate student conducts study on cancer and exercise


taken from above 8 people playing pickleball with a colorful striped beach ball on a gym floor with net ball in air above net all players looking up on with his arms raised

Cancer survivors participate in a group activity at the Alamosa Recreation Center.

Danielle P. Smith believes in the power of healthy eating and exercise. After losing a sister to cancer, she also is committed to improving the quality of life for all who have faced the challenge of a cancer diagnosis.

Smith, an Adams State University Human Performance and Physical Education: Exercise Science graduate student, is working with Dr. M. "Penny" Cooper, oncologist at the SLV Health Oncology Clinic, and the Alamosa Family Recreation Center, to design a cancer and exercise study, "Investigating the Effects of a Supervised, Progressive, Eight-Week Physical Activity Program on Cancer Survivors' Health, Fitness and Quality of Life."

The purpose of the study is to determine if a supervised, progressive, eight-week physical activity intervention of aerobic exercise, resistance training, stretching and group sport activities could increase cardiorespiratory function, aerobic capacity, muscle strength and endurance, flexibility, and overall fitness age, decrease cancer-related fatigue and improve Quality of Life (QoL) in cancer survivors in a rural setting.

Smith hypothesizes that cancer survivors will increase cardiorespiratory function, aerobic capacity, musculoskeletal fitness, and decrease cancer-related fatigue and FitnessAge, and improve Quality of Life.

"I am very passionate about healthy eating and exercise and how it may help cancer survivors and patients," Smith said. When her older sister first received her late-stage breast cancer diagnosis in 2008, her doctor said she didn't have to change anything about her life. "I felt that that was wrong and encouraged her to exercise as often as she could between surgery and chemotherapy sessions. I encouraged her to eat healthier and to use health supplements but she was busy pursuing a nursing degree and didn't make time to always exercise. Eventually, I decided cancer and exercise was the area I wanted to study for my master's thesis."

Once she had selected her thesis subject, Smith did extensive research and study to support her belief that exercise can be a healthy choice for patients diagnosed with cancer. She found well-documented research from credible sources, including the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Cancer Society that supported her claim.

After she presented her thesis proposal to her HPPE graduate committee including Dr. Tracey Robinson, professor of HPPE, and Peggy Johnson, instructor of HPPE, and met with Cooper, and was approved by the ASU Institutional Review Board, Smith recruited 41 volunteers and the study began January 15. The study consists of a week of pre- and post-testing for all participants using FitnessAge Testing and a Six-Minute-Walk-Test and an Eight-Week Exercise Intervention, for group. Of the 41 survivor's recruited for the study, only 32 were able to start the study on January 15; 16 participants in the exercise group and 16 in the control group. The control group is continued with their usual care and did not participate in the exercise intervention. The exercise group completed the eight-week exercise intervention.

danielle smith stands on far side of treadmill looking up at Juan Rodriguez he faces camera

Danielle Smith encourages Juan Rodriguez, during supervised aerobic exercise.

The exercise intervention consists of three days a week of supervised exercise for eight weeks; and includes one day of aerobic exercise, one day of resistance circuit training, and one day of a group sport activity. Heart rate monitors are worn during the exercise interventions in order to monitor exercise intensity.

Post-testing will be the week of March 26-30 for all participants (the control group and the exercise intervention group). FitnessAge Testing and the Six-Minute-Walk-Test will be repeated to measure for any changes. The Fatigue and Quality of Life Questionnaires will be given again to measure for changes.

ASU HPPE undergraduate students including Alexis Colwell, Michael Ellis, Miguel Guerrero, Tuli Laulu Maesyn Ries, Briana Rodriguez, Katelyn Schwartz, and undergraduate biology major, Pablo Maldonado Jr. helped Smith with testing and supervision of the training sessions; monitoring and logging heart rates, logging rates of perceived exertion (RPE), and ensuring proper technique and safety, and interacting in the group sport activities. Graduate HPPE students including Alex Jordan, David Sheppard, and Kris Mugrage helped with FitnessAge Testing. "This study wouldn't be possible without the help of these students and I can't thank them enough for being a part it," Smith said.

She appreciates all of the participants for being part of this study. "The current exercise group all worked very hard but they also had fun." The control group will be offered the eight-week intervention at the end of the study. Research shows that some cancers are preventable with lifestyle changes, that patients are more likely to exercise when the recommendation comes from their oncologist, and that physical activity is important for every cancer patient at any stage of cancer. "I want to thank Dr. Cooper for recommending her patients to exercise and be physically active before, during, and after treatments, and for supporting this study. I want to thank my other committee members, Dr. Tracey Robinson and Peggy Johnson, and the ASU HPPE Department for their tireless support in educating their students and supporting this study," Smith added.

In the future, Cooper and Smith, and the current research participants, hope to have an exercise program for survivors here in the valley. A cancer survivor is defined as "someone diagnosed with cancer from day one," said Cooper. "It would possibly take collaboration between future students from the ASU HPPE department and SLV Health Oncology Dept. to continue those efforts," Smith added.