Exploring physical activity among adults affected by cancer during and beyond the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic


Background: Despite the benefits physical activity (PA) offers, many adults affected by cancer do not meet PA guidelines. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this population experienced further declines in PA, possibly related to the restrictions implemented. To better understand PA during and beyond pandemic-related restrictions, we explored COVID-19 PA experiences and comfort engaging in PA as restrictions ease among adults affected by cancer. Methods: An online survey was administered to adults affected by cancer covering socio-demographic, PA, and comfort gathering information. Descriptive statistics were computed, and a purposeful sample of survey participants was recruited to complete semi-structured interviews. Interviews were analyzed using reflexive thematic analysis. Results: 113 adults affected by cancer completed the survey (mean age=61.9±12.7 years; 68% female). Most (72%) participants were not meeting PA guidelines (mean moderate-to-vigorous PA=89.2±138.2 minutes/week) and reported engaging in similar or less PA than pre-pandemic. The majority (82%) were also hesitant about returning to in-person PA. During interviews (n=12; mean age=58±14.5 years; 58% female), participants described changed PA access over COVID-19. Though some participants recounted similar or greater access to PA, many described restriction-related barriers to PA (e.g., no equipment, fear of injury). Participants perceptions of easing restrictions and returning to in-person PA varied. Several strategies were shared to balance participants desire for PA access with their concerns for their health. Conclusions: COVID-19 exacerbated already low PA levels among adults affected by cancer. This sample was wary about in-person PA. Exploring COVID-19-related PA behaviour change support and remote/hybrid PA delivery are warranted.

Acknowledgments: This project was supported by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Explore Grant and the University of the Fraser Valley.