Skip to main content

Breast-cancer survivors and Sony PlayStations likely haven't intersected often in the realm of clinical research, but Darren Warburton of the University of British Columbia hopes to change that.

His research in the university's cardiovascular physiology and rehabilitation laboratory department uses PlayStations as a tool to get people exercising – hopefully creating healthy routines to last a lifetime.

"It is a novel intervention," Prof. Warburton says.

He says his research is the first evaluation of a novel exercise intervention on the health status and quality of life for post-menopausal women with breast cancer.

Research subjects will pump away on stationary bicycles hooked up to screens that simultaneously allow subjects to play such off -the-shelf games as ATV Off-Road Fury, The Simpsons and various NASCAR games.

The harder the subjects pump the cycle, the faster their videogame alter egos move on screen.

The point is to provide exercise in the 30-minute sessions three times a week, and also to encourage participants to exercise beyond the sessions.

"We anticipate that [research subjects] will become more physically active as a result of engaging in this program," he said. "At the end of the day, we want them to be more physically active outside the lab."

Prof. Warburton came up with the idea based on previous research by his colleagues over at least eight years on using similar tactics to encourage exercise among subjects with spinal-cord injuries, heart disease and diabetes.

"In our previous work with other populations, we have shown that individuals that engage in physical activity that involves linking them to video games actually adhere to exercise to a greater extent," he said. "They exercise more often and more frequently to higher intensity without knowing it."

Now it's time for breast-cancer survivors.

"The ultimate goal of our research is to determine whether interactive video games are an effective means to improve exercise behaviour, health status and overall quality of life in patients with breast cancer," says Prof. Warburton's research proposal.

The Canadian Breast Cancer Research Alliance has provided $35,000 in research funding for a pilot project overseen by Prof. Warburton. Twenty subjects have signed up for the research program, which begins soon in at facilities in Richmond and on the main UBC campus.

Many subjects are interested in new options for physical exercise, he said.

"Many commented that they found it difficult to do traditional exercise, and when they tried to do traditional exercise they found it often boring. They thought this may be another means to become physical active," Prof. Warburton said.

And he noted that some said their children found the whole idea rather cool.

"We know exercise is of huge benefit for breast-cancer survivors. The literature is overwhelming on that perspective. The quality of life is improved. Longevity is improved," he said.

"Unfortunately, our traditional exercise rehabilitation for breast cancer is limited by the fact that many individuals who start exercise don't continue with it. In fact, dropout rates are enormous. Over 50 per cent of people who start an exercise program drop out within six months.

"That has huge health implications for breast-cancer survivors and the population."

Dr. Sian Bevan, assistant director of research programs for the Canadian Cancer Society, said that the project "is obviously using an innovative way to promote physical activity in this group.

"I think it's testing a unique and different intervention," she said. "We're looking forward to seeing the results of this study and others like it."