The 411: Get Matched, Get Active

It may seem cliché to talk about the benefits of physical activity following a breast cancer diagnosis – after all, there are so many new things to do, to learn, and to change. So, why should physical activity be a priority?

The answer is simple: Physical activity has been linked to improved physical health – everything from joints to bones to muscles to heart and lung health – and improved mental health and well-being. Arguably the most important evidence shows that women who are active after diagnosis are significantly less likely to have a recurrence or to die from cancer or any other causes. We know the most about the benefits of physical activity after breast cancer specifically, and the evidence is strongly supportive of moving more to improve quality and quantity of life.

Why get active?

Up to 90 percent of women are not active enough to gain health and survival benefits. About 1 in every 7 women is physically active after a cancer diagnosis. These numbers don’t change much for those women more recently diagnosed or those who are 5-10-15 years out.

Overcoming obstacles

There are many reasons for the high rates of inactivity, many of them are no different for any typical adult: no time, lack of energy and/or motivation, too costly, too late to start now, and no support. The first of these reasons are quite easy to address (for example, activity can be accumulated in short 5 to 10-minute bouts, timing of physical activity can be modified to address low energy and fatigue, finding enjoyable activities helps with motivation, there are plenty of no-cost activities, and it is never too late to start to be more active). Lack of support for physical activity is a little more challenging to address, because it depends on others. But it is also very important because social support for physical activity helps women stick to goals, push themselves harder, and be more physically active in general.

In our early work talking about physical activity barriers with breast cancer survivors, women often endorsed the general statement, “If someone would show up at my house and drag me out the door, I would exercise.”

A Solution

ActiveMatch is a website that allows women to sign up, create profiles, answer some important matching questions, and browse women’s profiles who could become their support network for physical activity. Browsing can be done based on certain criteria (like geographic proximity, age, or timing availability) or by reading through profiles and connecting to someone and their story. Women can also contact others directly on the site using the messaging platform.

ActiveMatch is filling a need. It is helping women going through cancer to find other women to help them get out the door and walk. It is helping women who are relatively far removed from their cancer treatments to find a supportive partner to join a new exercise class or train for a fitness event. Most importantly, ActiveMatch provides women with an opportunity to connect in person for physical activity, or to simply create a supportive text or email partnership to keep them accountable to their physical activity goals. It’s also evidence-based, free for women to use, eliminating barriers like getting to a certain place at a certain time, and limited exercises.

With funding support from the Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute, we have interviewed women on what they would like in a physical activity partner to understand WHO they want to be matched with. We have also identified HOW women want to be matched with a physical activity partner and how they want to be supported, and WHERE they like to be active. ActiveMatch is also endorsed by clinicians and researchers as a way to help increase physical activity levels among women after a cancer diagnosis. The goal is to help reduce rates of physical inactivity to help more women live healthier and longer lives, one step, stroke, pedal, or lotus pose at a time.

For more stories on fitness and exercise, click here.

Catherine Sabiston is a professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Activity at the University of Toronto. She is a recipient of the William E. Rawls Prize from the Canadian Cancer Society for her work on improving physical activity among individuals diagnosed with cancer. For more info. on her ActiveMatch program, click here.


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