12 survivors successfully complete a quarter of a triathlon after intensive supervised programme TriaGO!

As a result of recent advances in cancer treatments, fortunately, more and more people survive the disease. Unfortunately, many of them are left with the burden of long-term side effects in their day-to-day lives. Survivors, for example, have a greater risk of developing chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease. That is why physical reconditioning is of vital importance. 

Physical fitness allows people to function better and helps to reduce individual symptoms. A better physical condition increases your chances and options for returning to work, reduces cancer recurrence and increases your chances of survival. After their treatment and subsequent in-hospital rehabilitation, many survivors are in need of specific support before they feel confident enough to work on their physical condition at home on an independent basis.

There is no standardised model for oncological rehabilitation outside of the hospitals. With the support of Think Pink, UZA and AZ Monica launched a supervised programme specifically for cancer survivors and their buddies. The researchers identified several specific needs in cancer survivors:

- continuation of the hospital rehabilitation programme; 
- training provided in a location away from a health or sports club; 
- training together with other patients; 
- focusing on improving physical condition and quality of life.

According to the researchers, supervision and the buddy system are essential. This is because there are a number of reasons why cancer survivors are less prone to exercise:

- lack of facilities;
- mental difficulties;
- solitary exercises;
- fear of doing harm.

The researchers worked out an 8-month programme. The goal: completing a quarter of a triathlon consisting of 1 km of swimming, 45 km of cycling and 10 km of running. After a series of tests, 12 survivors and 12 buddies were selected for the study. During the training, the frequency, duration and intensity of the exercises were systematically built up. The physical health of the participants was measured at the start of the training, after 4 months and after 8 months. The researchers measured progress in aerobic fitness, muscular fitness and body composition using a number of objective criteria.

The most striking changes were in waist circumference, maximum oxygen uptake (VO2max) and muscular fitness. The maximum exercise capacity of survivors and buddies also improved significantly. Another remarkable conclusion: the physical condition of survivors and buddies improved to the same level and the progress made by both groups was comparable. This shows that, with the same training, survivors can achieve similar results. All 12 survivors eventually completed the programme and the quarter of a triathlon. 10 buddies finished with them.

2 years after completing the training programme, all participants were asked about their lifestyle. All of them had maintained the lifestyle changes and regular exercise up to that point. The research shows that it is advisable to provide support outside the hospital after in-hospital rehabilitation. It increases the chance that survivors will continue to maintain their physical condition completely independently and successfully in the long term.

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