Sept. 30, 2019

Kinesiology researcher receives national award for cancer and exercise research

Nicole Culos-Reed tackles the health-care system to improve quality of life for those with cancer

Nicole Culos-Reed

Nicole Culos-Reed with client John Gosbee at the University of Calgary Thrive Centre.

Riley Brandt, University of Clgary

Once exercise for cancer survivors is supported within the health-care system, “my job will by done,” says Dr. Nicole Culos-Reed, PhD, Faculty of Kinesiology researcher.

“I want to see exercise programs, which are a proven tool for wellness and recovery, as a standard part of cancer care,” says Culos-Reed, who also is the director of the Thrive Centre, a facility where those with cancer can take part in exercise programs.

“For example, cancer facilities typically have professionals like nutritionists and physiotherapists, but they don’t have certified exercise professionals, and this is something that must change. It’s about changing the culture, and supporting wellness in cancer care.”

Her dedication to advocating for those with cancer has earned her a national Research Excellence Award, from Canadian Institutes of Health Research through the Canadian Association of Psychosocial Oncology (CAPO), for significant career contributions in psychosocial oncological research and practice with nominees in areas such as psychology, rehabilitation, and nursing. 

“It’s an honour that my colleagues nominated me for this award and that I was recognized by CAPO. But the impact of my work is in the trainees who go on to expand and deliver on our passion for exercise for cancer survivors, and in delivering exercise resources for people who have cancer, and seeing the difference exercise programs make for them in their wellness journey,” says Culos-Reed. “Often they begin by thinking, ‘Exercise will be good for my health or fitness,’ but they don’t consider the benefit it will have on their mental well-being, emotional well-being, and building a community of support. An exercise program is often life changing for them.”

Expanding cancer and exercise programs across Canada

Along with co-lead Dr. Margaret McNeely from the University of Alberta, Culos-Reed implemented Alberta Cancer Exercise, or the ACE program, a free community-based, 12-week exercise program to help those with cancer, during and post-treatment, improve their recovery. The program is part of a five-year study, incorporating evidence-based research at every step. 

To date, the program has expanded from Calgary and Edmonton to include Lethbridge, Red Deer, Medicine Hat, Airdrie, Grande Prairie and Fort McMurray. ACE provides those in the fitness industry with cancer and exercise training to lead the program.

Culos-Reed is also supporting cancer care organizations in eastern provinces like Nova Scotia Cancer Care who have adapted the program, called ACCESS, for their community, and she has collaborated with Atlantic regions colleagues, who are using her model to train cancer and exercise leaders.

Dr. Meghan McDonough, PhD, is one of Culos-Reed’s colleagues and a part of the Faculty of Kinesiology team, who nominated her for the award.

“She is very deserving of a national award, because her research is making a national impact for those with cancer. Nicole is bringing together researchers, health services, and the fitness industry from across provinces to benefit cancer survivors, and this is an incredible accomplishment,” says McDonough.

“Her research has a strong knowledge translation component. She focuses on training leaders to deliver exercise programs that will fit not only into the local community but into the health-care system as a whole, across the country.”

Training fitness leaders for cancer

So far, fitness professionals and health providers have been trained across Canada to administer the cancer and exercise fitness program, as special training is required to work with a population who can be at high risk.

Dr. Amanda Wurz, a postdoctoral fellow in kinesiology at UCalgary, was trained as a fitness leader through the ACE program. “This is a very special population. I feel grateful to have the opportunity to empower survivors to feel a sense of control, and to witness the sense of community that they form with each other,” says Wurz. “I’ve received just as much from them, as they’ve received from me in terms of life lessons, a deeper sense of gratitude and appreciation for what the human body is capable of.”

“Through the training and working with Nicole, I have gained skills, knowledge and confidence to work in this field. I’m happy to hear Nicole is receiving this award because she gives those with cancer and their fitness leaders an incredible opportunity – I cannot think of someone more deserving of this recognition,” says Wurz.

CIHR-Institute of Cancer Research-Research Excellence Award is a Canadian Association of Psychosocial Oncology or CAPO award sponsored by the CIHR-Institute of Cancer Research. The award will be presented on Sept. 26 at the Canadian Association of Psychosocial Oncology (CAPO) and International Psycho-oncology Society (IPOS) 21st World Congress of Psycho-Oncology. ACE is funded by Alberta Innovates and the Alberta Cancer Foundation.

Nicole Culos-Reed receives award

Nicole Culos-Reed receives Research Excellence award from Alan Bates, former CAPO board member.

Courtesy CAPO