The effect of aerobic exercise on self-esteem and depressive and anxiety symptoms among breast cancer survivors

Oncol Nurs Forum. 1998 Jan-Feb;25(1):107-13.


Purpose/objectives: To evaluate the effects of 10 weeks of aerobic exercise on depressive and anxiety symptoms and self-esteem of breast cancer survivors.

Design: Experimental, crossover.

Setting: Midwestern university town.

Sample: Twenty-four breast cancer survivors (mean time following surgery 41.8 months; ranging from 1 to 99 months) recruited via mail and cancer support groups. The mean age of the sample was 48.9 years.

Methods: Subjects were assigned randomly into exercise (EX), exercise-plus-behavior modification (EX + BM), and control groups. EX and EX + BM groups exercised aerobically four days/week at > or = 60% of age-predicted maximum heart rate for 10 weeks. Data were collected pretest, post-test, and crossover (12 weeks following post-test). Because pretest or post-test scores showed no statistical differences between EX and EX + BM groups, data were combined to form one group.

Main research variables: Aerobic exercise (four days/ week; 30-40 minutes/session), depression, (Beck Depression inventory), anxiety (Speilberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory), and self-esteem (Rosenberg Self-Esteem Inventory).

Findings: Pre- to post-test analyses revealed that women who exercised had significantly less depression and state and trait anxiety over time compared to controls. After the crossover, the control group demonstrated comparable improvements in both depressive and state anxiety scores. Self-esteem did not change significantly. Subjects who received exercise recommendations from their physicians exercised significantly more than subjects who received no recommendation.

Conclusions: Mild to moderate aerobic exercise may be of therapeutic value to breast cancer survivors with respect to depressive and anxiety symptoms but not to self-esteem. A physician's recommendation to exercise appears to be an important factor in a patient's exercise adherence.

Implications for nursing practice: To Improve depressive and anxiety symptoms following breast cancer surgery, healthcare professionals should consider recommending mild to moderate exercise.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Anxiety / prevention & control*
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Depression / etiology
  • Depression / prevention & control*
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Self Concept*
  • Survivors / psychology*
  • Treatment Outcome