For Rural Women Who Have Had Breast Cancer, Believing in Themselves Is Key to Exercising

Breast Cancer News
March 2, 2015
Erin Rowley, Writer and Content Coordinator
Reviewed By: 
Deborah Boyle, MSN, RN, AOCNS, FAAN

Researchers found that among women with breast cancer living in rural areas, those who believe in their ability to exercise, believe there are few roadblocks preventing them from exercising, and have low levels of fatigueinfo-icon are most likely to get the recommended amount of exercise.

Background and Goals

Studies show exercise can lessen side effects of breast cancer treatment and improve quality of lifeinfo-icon. Getting at least the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week has been found to cut the risk of death from any cause and recurrenceinfo-icon, or return, of breast cancer in half. But it’s estimated that two-thirds or more of people who have had breast cancer don’t get the recommended amount of exercise. And that number is estimated to be even higher – more than four-fifths – among people who live in rural areas.

These researchers wanted to learn what was stopping people in rural areas from getting the recommended amount of exercise after a breast cancer diagnosisinfo-icon.


For this study, 483 people who had been diagnosed with breast cancer and who lived in rural Illinois filled out surveys. They were asked to report their age, ethnicity, race, annual household income and years of education. They were also asked about their breast cancer stageinfo-icon, time since diagnosis and what kind of treatments they had.

The participants were asked how often and for how long they exercised, and whether that exercise level was mild, moderate or difficult. They were also asked about their level of fatigue.

The researchers also measured the participants’ self-efficacyinfo-icon – how much they believed in their own ability to do something, in this case, to exercise. They did this by asking questions like how bad weather would affect their willingness to exercise, whether their neighborhood is pedestrian-friendly and whether they believe they could run or jog for 10 minutes. Participants were also asked how much social supportinfo-icon they received for their exercise goals.


Researchers found that just 19.2 percent – less than one-fifth – of those surveyed were getting the recommended amount of exercise. They also found that low levels of fatigue, believing there are few roadblocks getting in the way of exercise and greater self-efficacy were the factors most strongly associated with getting the recommended amount of exercise.

They found that people with higher levels of education were more likely to believe in their ability to exercise, even when faced by barriers such as bad weather. They also found that the more rural the community, the less likely the person was to report that their environment was helpful in getting them to exercise or that they had strong social support.

What This Means for You

You may see yourself in these results. Maybe feeling tired keeps you from going to the gym. Maybe the way your neighborhood is designed doesn’t make it ideal for outdoor exercise. You are not alone in facing barriers that keep you from working out. It may help you to know that believing in your ability to exercise makes it more likely that you will do so.

These researchers found that there are many factors that keep people who live in rural areas and have been diagnosed with breast cancer from getting the recommended amount of exercise. They hope that knowing what keeps people from being physically fit will make it easier to create programs that can help people overcome those barriers.

It may help to recognize what exercise barriers get in your way and come up with solutions to get past those barriers. Those solutions could include:

  • Exercising with a friend
  • Having exercise videos or equipment in your home
  • Figuring out when in the day you’re least tired and exercising then
  • Creating exercise goals and rewarding yourself when you meet them
  • Talking to other people with breast cancer about how they motivate themselves to exercise
  • Asking a patient navigator or social workerinfo-icon at your treatment center to help you find resources in your area

For more information about exercise, fatigue and breast cancer, view LBBC’s webinar, Exercise, Breast Cancer and You: The Benefits of Physical Activity and How to Get Started, and read our Guide to Understanding Insomnia and Fatigue.

Olson, Erin A.; Mullen, Sean P.; Rogers, Laura Q. et al. Meeting Physical Activity Guidelines in Rural Breast Cancer Survivors. American Journal of Health Behavior. Volume 38, Issue 33, pages 890-899, November 20, 2014; doi: 10.5993/AJHB.38.6.11.

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