Cancer treatments lead to reductions in skeletal muscle mass and increases in fat mass. These changes reduce quality of life, increase risk of cancer recurrence and comorbidities. In addition, sarcopenia (clinically relevant muscle wasting/weakness) increases hospital admissions, admission duration and complications post-treatment. Treatment differs across cancer types; in addition to surgery, radiation and chemotherapy endocrine therapy for breast and prostate cancer is known to significantly result in negative changes in body composition. The aim of this study was to determine the effectiveness of one month of high intensity interval training (HIIT) on body composition and sarcopenia status in breast, prostate and colorectal cancer survivors.
Breast (n=49, 55±14 years), colorectal (n=9, 56±14 years) and prostate (n=30, 69±5 years) cancer survivors completed 12-HIIT sessions on a cycle ergometer over four weeks. Which involved 4 x 4 minute bouts at 85-95%peak heart rate separated by three minutes of active recovery. Body composition (dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry) and grip strength were measured pre/post the four-week intervention.
At baseline, 30% of survivors were classified as sarcopenic/presarcopenic. HIIT resulted in significant reductions in fat mass (627±1676g; p=0.001) and body fat percentage (0.62±1.8%: p=0.001) and significant increases in lower limb lean mass (340±664g; p<0.0001). The improvement in leg lean mass in breast cancer survivors (3.1%) was double the prostate cancer survivors (1.6%), this wasn’t statistically significant. Additionally a 4% reduction in sarcopenic/presarcopenic status was observed.
Four weeks of HIIT elicited significant increases in skeletal muscle mass and reductions in fat mass in cancer survivors. Additionally, there was a reduction in patients that were classified as sarcopenic/presarcopenic. These positive changes in body composition confirm that HIIT has the potential to rapidly improve outcomes for those diagnosed and treated for cancer. HIIT has proven a useful tool to improve physical functioning and potentially mitigate deleterious treatment outcomes.