Engaging sedentary women with cancer to participate in a group exercise program – what helped?

Tamara Boatman, Clarissa Hughes, Denise Blanchard

Research output: Other contribution to conferencePosterpeer-review


The 2018 COSA physical activity guidelines are clear; people who have been diagnosed with cancer should work towards and then maintain 150 minutes of exercise per week to promote health and wellbeing, mitigate the impact of cancer treatment and potentially reduce the risk of cancer recurrence (Cormie et al., 2018). Yet many women who have been diagnosed with breast or gynaecological cancer are not reaching these targets and the challenge remains how to engage those who are sedentary. This masters project explored women’s experiences of Counterpart’s six-week introductory community-based exercise program, with a focus on women’s decision-making to attend.
A purposive sampling strategy was utilised to recruit women who had attended a group exercise program to one of three focus groups. Thirteen women diagnosed with breast or gynaecological cancer participated, and most were previously sedentary. Focus group transcripts were analysed thematically, each elicited similar themes.
Women felt vulnerable and lacked the confidence to exercise following their cancer diagnosis. Practical issues including cost, location, being aware of the program and receiving an external prompt were highly influential in decision-making to participate. Undertaking exercise with others who had similar experiences was perceived to provide physical and emotional safety, and trust in the instructor was also important. Some women sought exercise in a group for support and camaraderie, others attended despite the group format but found the support beneficial. Women were attracted to the short duration of the program as a manageable introductory level of commitment and to the advertised variety of exercises. Feelings of guilt and stigma at being sedentary were a motivator and a source of distress.
This small-scale study highlights factors which encouraged exercise participation by previously sedentary women with cancer. Suggestions for the development of group exercise programs and for future research are offered.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2019
EventCancer Survivorship: Future of cancer survivorship - evolution or revolution? - Rydges World Square, Sydney, Australia
Duration: 28 Mar 201929 Mar 2019
Conference number: 4


ConferenceCancer Survivorship
Internet address


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