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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – A study by researchers from the UNC Chapel Hill Department of Exercise and Sport Science and UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center suggests that breast cancer patients and survivors using a biofeedback technique called HeartMath® can enhance their overall sense of well-being, helping them get to a “new normal” after a cancer diagnosis.

The study, published in the journal Annual in Therapeutic Recreation, evaluated the experiences of six women aged 42-66, who had completed breast cancer treatment in the last six months and who were participating in the Get REAL & HEEL program. The Get REAL & HEEL program integrates individualized prescriptive exercise with recreational therapy with the goal of helping each participant manage cancer treatment related symptoms and increase chances of survivorship and quality of life.

The authors tested the hypothesis that participation in mindful leisure activities can help breast cancer patients and survivors overcome some of the negative psychological and social consequences of a cancer diagnosis and treatment. The HeartMath® biofeedback technique trains individuals to be aware of and regulate their Heart Rate Coherence (HRC) during various emotional states, helping them sustain a positive emotional response to various stressful situations.

Researchers theorize that sustained HRC helps the body regulate key stress hormones, a key factor in the maintenance of good health.

“We found that all of the subjects were able to maintain significantly higher HRC scores after learning the HeartMath® technique. The study participants also reported feeling more in control of their emotional states, success in integrating the technique into everyday life and a more positive overall emotional state,” said Diane Groff, associate professor of Exercise and Sports Science and UNC Lineberger member.

Along with Groff, study participants included assistant professor Claudio Battaglini and Professor Anthony Hackney from the Department of Exercise and Sport Science. Battaglini is also a member of UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. Other investigators included Cari Sipe from Galloway Ridge, Michael Anderson at the National Cancer Institute and Dr. Jeffrey Peppercorn from Duke University Health System.

The Get REAL & HEEL Program and this research was supported in part by grants from the North Carolina Recreational Therapy Association and the NC Triangle Affiliate of the Susan G. Komen For the Cure Foundation.