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BMC Cancer. 2018 Jun 25;18(1):685. doi: 10.1186/s12885-018-4603-3.

Replacing sedentary time with physical activity or sleep: effects on cancer-related cognitive impairment in breast cancer survivors.

Author information

University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC, 29208, USA.
Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, NC, USA.
National Cancer Institute, Rockville, MD, USA.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL, USA.
Pfizer Incorporated, Cambridge, MA, USA.
Digital Artefacts, Iowa City, IA, USA.
Northeastern University, Boston, MA, USA.



Evidence suggests reallocating daily sedentary time to physical activity or sleep confers important health benefits in cancer survivors. Despite emerging research suggesting physical activity as a treatment for cancer-related cognitive impairment (CRCI), little is known about the interactive effects of behaviors across the 24-h period. The present purpose was to examine the cognitive effects of reallocating sedentary time to light-intensity physical activity, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA), or sleep in breast cancer survivors.


Breast cancer survivors (N = 271, Mage = 57.81 ± 9.50 years) completed iPad-based questionnaires and cognitive tasks assessing demographics, health history, executive function, and processing speed (Task-Switch, Trail Making). Participants wore an accelerometer for seven consecutive days to measure their sedentary, physical activity, and sleep behaviors. Single effects (each behavior individually) and partition (controlling for other behaviors) models were used to examine associations among behaviors and cognitive performance. Isotemporal substitution models were used to test the cognitive effects of substituting 30 min of sedentary time with 30 min of light-intensity activity, MVPA, and sleep.


MVPA was associated with faster Task-switch reaction time in the partition models (stay: B = - 35.31, p = 0.02; switch: B = - 48.24, p = 0.004). Replacing 30 min of sedentary time with 30 min of MVPA yielded faster reaction times on Task-Switch stay (B = - 29.37, p = 0.04) and switch (B = - 39.49, p = 0.02) trials. In Trails A single effects models, sedentary behavior was associated with faster completion (B = - 0.97, p = 0.03) and light-intensity activity with slower completion (B = 1.25, p = 0.006). No single effects were observed relative to Trails B completion (all p > 0.05). Only the effect of MVPA was significant in the partition models (Trails A: B = - 3.55, p = 0.03; Trails B: B = - 4.46, p = 0.049). Replacing sedentary time with light-intensity activity was associated with slower Trails A (B = 1.55 p = 0.002) and Trails B (B = 1.69, p = 0.02) completion. Replacing light activity with MVPA yielded faster Trails A (B = - 4.35, p = 0.02) and Trails B (B = - 5.23, p = 0.03) completion.


Findings support previous research suggesting MVPA may be needed to improve cognitive function in breast cancer survivors. Trails findings underscore the need to dissect sedentary contexts to better understand the impact of daily behavioral patterns on CRCI. Additional research investigating the cognitive impacts of behaviors across the 24-h period is warranted.


This study is registered with United States ( NCT02523677 ; 8/14/2015).

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