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Some Programs To Increase Exercise Have Lasting Effects

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Press Release Date: August 2, 2004

Some behavior modification programs designed to increase exercise show continued effects for at least 3 months after they end, according to a new report released by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and supported by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health. However, the review of existing evidence also demonstrated that it is difficult to achieve sustainable gains in increased physical activity because few studies looked at the effects of these programs for more than 1 year.

"This report underscores that the successful expansion of efforts to increase physical activity first requires a better understanding of what makes programs effective," said Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson.

Encouraging Americans to be more physically active is a key part of President Bush's HealthierUS initiative and HHS' Steps to a HealthierUS initiative. According to the latest statistics, 70 percent of adults in the United States do not get enough physical activity, and more than one-third of children do not participate regularly in vigorous exercise. A study released by HHS' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in March 2004 found that 400,000 deaths in the United States are linked to poor diet and lack of physical activity—an increase of 33 percent since 1990.

AHRQ's evidence review found that no specific behavioral intervention or setting appeared to be more effective than another and that shorter, less-intensive programs were just as successful at achieving behavior change as ones that lasted longer and involved more contacts with participants. Interventions examined included face-to-face counseling, mailings, and check-ups by telephone. Settings for the interventions included clinics, community centers, schools, workplaces, child care centers, exercise centers, churches, and participants' homes.

"This report provides good information about increasing physical activity through interventions delivered in a variety of settings," said AHRQ Director Carolyn M. Clancy, M.D. "Hopefully it will help us to identify programs that can lead to sustained behavior change."

In addition to reviewing evidence from physical activity interventions in healthy populations, the authors also examined the effects of exercise on cancer survivors—people living with cancer or those who have a personal history of the disease. The report concluded that exercise programs can improve cancer patients' functional capacity and cardiopulmonary fitness, reduce symptoms of fatigue, and improve quality of life during and after cancer treatment. In addition, exercise can reduce cancer patients' symptoms of anxiety and depression during treatment. The report suggests that physical activity may have other positive effects among cancer patients, but at this time there are too few studies to reach any conclusions.

NCI Director Andrew C. von Eschenbach, M.D., said, "Regular physical activity is important for both lowering the risk for and managing multiple diseases, including some cancers. The more we understand about how to help people start and maintain exercise programs, the more we can help cancer survivors combat some of the early and late effects of cancer and its treatment."

The report was prepared by a team of researchers led by Jeremy Holtzman, M.D., at AHRQ's University of Minnesota Evidence-Based Practice Center in Minneapolis. A summary of the report, Efficacy of Behavioral Interventions to Modify Physical Activity Behaviors, can be found at Printed copies may be ordered by calling 1-800-358-9295 or by sending an E-mail to

For more information, please contact AHRQ Public Affairs: (301) 427-1539, or (301) 427-1865.


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