Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Kinesiology (MKin)


Kinesiology and Physical Education


Faculty of Science

First Advisor

Dr. Margaret Schneider

Advisor Role




Cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada, with one in two Canadians expected to develop cancer over their lifetime (Canadian Cancer Society, 2019). Exercise is reportedly a safe therapy to help ease the common side effects of cancer and its treatments (Schmitz et al., 2010). Past research has shown the benefits of group exercise while in treatment for cancer, but there is a dearth of research regarding the impact of long-term group exercise programming for cancer survivors. This phenomenological study explored the lived experiences of group exercise participation for individuals who previously had cancer and were enrolled in the University of Waterloo (UW) STAY-FIT program.


13 females and 3 males were recruited from the UW STAY-FIT program. Members completed an initial interview, followed by a final interview approximately four weeks later. They also completed a brief, online weekly journal entry once per week for four weeks, following their initial interview. Data was supplemented using a number of different sources, including: basic demographics, observation of the setting, field notes, transcript verification, and member checks.


This study demonstrates the complexity of the lived experiences of group exercise participation among cancer survivors. Themes were divided into four key domains (i.e., social, mental, physical, and contextual) that were described as being both complimentary and interdependent. The contextual domain represented members’ experiences of the energy in the atmosphere and continued staff support. The social domain encompassed perceptions related to accountability, connectedness, normalcy and understanding. The mental and physical domains blended together to include perceived value of exercise, physical improvement, and ability to reclaim oneself following treatment for cancer. These findings reveal how valuable long-term membership of a group exercise program is on the social, mental and physical well-being of cancer survivors.


Overall, this study demonstrates that a group exercise program for cancer survivors provides many physical benefits, while also heavily impacting social and mental well-being in the long-term. The detailed stories shared by STAY-FIT members contribute towards our current understanding surrounding the significance and meaning of exercising in a program with other individuals who are living through the experience of cancer.

Convocation Year