Qualitative research on the impact of physical activity on quality of life (QoL) in adults diagnosed with cancer is accumulating. However, the field of physical activity and cancer survivorship lack a synthesis of this research to reliably understand the implications for future research and practice. The aim of this meta-synthesis was to identify, appraise, and synthesize qualitative research on cancer survivors’ perspectives of the impact of physical activity on their QoL. Seven electronic databases were searched for original studies published in English, and reference lists of relevant studies were hand-searched to identify additional studies. Forty studies met eligibility criteria and were included in this meta-synthesis. Study characteristics and major findings were extracted, and findings were summarized, compared, and synthesized. Themes identified in this review revealed that physical activity positively impacted four dimensions of cancer survivors’ QoL: physical
(e.g., managing the physical consequences of cancer and its treatment), psychological
(e.g., evoking positive self-perceptions), social
(e.g., feeling understood by others), and spiritual
(e.g., redefining life purpose). This meta-synthesis corroborates conclusions from reviews of quantitative research and illustrates that physical activity can be used to improve QoL in adult cancer survivors, regardless of diagnosis (i.e., stage, cancer type) and treatment status. It also provides detailed insight into specific aspects within each dimension of QoL impacted by physical activity from cancer survivors’ perspectives, which is important for understanding the meaning and utility of physical activity for them. However, more research is needed to further develop the qualitative evidence base in order to better understand how physical activity impacts on QoL experiences in men, young adults, and adults diagnosed with less common types of cancer at different points along cancer trajectory (i.e., diagnosis, treatment, post-treatment, palliation).
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