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“The healthy me appears”: Palliative cancer patients' experiences of participation in a physical group exercise program

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 November 2009

Hanne Paltiel*
Physiotherapy Department, St. Olavs University Hospital, Trondheim, Norway
Edel Solvoll
Sør-Trøndelag University College, Trondheim, Norway
Jon Håvard Loge
Department of Clinical Cancer Research, Rikshospitalet University Hospital, Oslo, Norway Pain and Palliation Group, Department of Cancer Research and Molecular Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Trondheim, Norway
Stein Kaasa
Pain and Palliation Group, Department of Cancer Research and Molecular Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Trondheim, Norway Palliative Medicine Unit, St. Olav's University Hospital, Trondheim, Norway
Line Oldervoll
Pain and Palliation Group, Department of Cancer Research and Molecular Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Trondheim, Norway
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Hanne Paltiel, Physiotherapy Department, St. Olav's University Hospital, 7006 Trondheim, Norway. E-mail:



Tentative results from a pilot study showed that patients with advanced cancer were willing and able to take part in a group exercise intervention. Limited knowledge exists, though, about the meaning and significance of such programs. The purpose of the present study was to understand the meaning of such an intervention for the individual participant and thereby to provide knowledge for shaping future clinical practice.


Thirty-four palliative cancer patients with a life expectancy of less than 1 year completed a 6-week group exercise program. Five randomly selected individuals were interviewed 7 months after completion. Results from a self-report evaluation questionnaire identified relevant themes that formed the basis of an interview guide. These were addressed in a semistructured interview. Verbatim transcripts were analyzed with a phenomenological–hermeneutical approach.


Two main themes emerged from the interviews: (1) perceptions of the group and (2) a secure and caring setting for the group. Themes identified regarding perception of the group were a sense of belonging and commitment. Themes identified regarding a secure and caring setting for the group were a life-empowering group as a setting for enhancing coping, the qualifications of those who led the group, and a public gym as an unsuitable setting.

Significance of results:

Our study indicates that an individually adjusted group exercise program, with competent leaders, can provide a setting to enhance psychological well-being in cancer patients with life expectancy below 1 year. Small sample size, however, limits the possibility to generalize the findings.

Original Articles
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2009

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