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Grant to help rural cancer patients

by Rosanna Galvin

Dr Jim Dollman.Cancer patients living in country South Australia will benefit from a Country Health SA grant awarded to UniSA’s Dr Jim Dollman (pictured right), to develop physical activity interventions in our state’s rural communities.

The senior Health Sciences lecturer has been granted $10,000 to develop physical activity programs in the Riverland and the Yorke Peninsula, which will combine pedometer use with a community website to improve quality of life for cancer patients and aid in preventing recurrence of the disease.

Dr Dollman says rural populations engage in less physical activity than their metropolitan counterparts due to a number of factors, including isolation and irregular working hours. For people living in rural communities who also are battling cancer or are in remission, maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle is particularly important.

“There is general recognition that active lifestyles and healthy eating are important for cancer survivors in terms of limiting the recurrence and improving quality of life,” Dr Dollman says.

The pilot project is targeted at people currently being treated for cancer with the intention to cure, or those who are immediately post-treatment.iStock_000017962428“We also know that rural people in general have lower levels of physical activity so when you put the two together, it highlights the need to focus attention on adults in rural regions who, because of their health status (in relation to cancer), need support for physical activity promotion because the rural environment can present barriers to physical activity engagement.”

Working closely with PhD student Lauren Frensham and fellow researchers Professor Roger Eston, Dr Alex Rowlands and Associate Professor Gaynor Parfitt, Dr Dollman will implement a program that promotes walking among participants, using pedometers as a motivational and data collection tool. Participants will then be asked to give feedback about their experiences.

Longer term, the research team aims to build an online community site that connects people living in rural communities with the resources available to them. Dr Dollman explains that the website will centre around an online physical activity diary that cancer survivors will use to record their daily steps and the perceived effort it took to achieve these steps.

“What we’re looking to do in rural regions is to develop an online site that enables people to access local information about support mechanisms, activities and events, which connect them to opportunities that currently exist in the community,” Dr Dollman says.

“The centrepiece of this online site is a physical activity diary. If patients are using pedometers they will record their steps and at the same time, they will record their perception of how much effort it took to achieve those steps.

“What we’re looking to design longer term is a formula which takes both of those pieces of information into account – the steps they did the previous week together with their perception of how much effort it took – to then generate the next week’s goal around steps.”

The pilot project is targeted at people currently being treated for cancer with the intention to cure, or those who are immediately post-treatment. Dr Dollman is also developing walk promotion programs across the broader Australian population as part of a three-year fellowship at the Heart Foundation.