In High School, my genuine love of exercising led me to my first job, as a group fitness instructor at a local gym. As an undergraduate, my exercise science courses showed me how exercise is truly medicine for both mind and body. That was the spark that led me to become an exercise and health researcher. Now, at the ACS, my goal is to better understand how exercise helps cancer survivors and how to promote it, so that more people can appreciate its benefits.”
As a principal scientist, Erika Rees-Punia, PhD, MPH, leads research projects on the promotion and benefits of physical activity. She is an exercise physiologist by training, with research interests more broadly in the behavioral sciences. Rees-Punia co-manages the Accelerometry Sub-Study, an ongoing project that’s collecting objectively measured physical activity on 20,000 participants via activity monitors. She also co-leads the American Cancer Society (ACS) Health Equity workgroup whose goal is to identify and improve cancer health disparities.
My expertise is in the fields of exercise science and behavioral science. My work specifically focuses on how physical activity and sedentary time affect cancer incidence, survival, and physical and mental health after a cancer diagnosis.
My work, and the work of many others, has shown that increasing physical activity and decreasing sedentary time helps decrease the risk of developing cancer. If cancer does develop, these actions lengthen survival and help people cope mentally and physically with the diagnosis. I also study how to use behavioral interventions, including combinations of self-monitoring, setting goals, and connecting with peers for social support, to promote active living.
I’m particularly interested in identifying populations that may have less access to safe opportunities for physical activity, who would therefore benefit the most from a physical activity intervention, such as cancer survivors and disparate groups (e.g., residents of rural areas and racial/ethnic minorities).
Given my expertise on the benefits of exercise across the cancer care continuum, I authored a chapter in Exercise Oncology: Prescribing Physical Activity Before and After a Cancer Diagnosis. This new textbook presents a practical approach to exercise oncology for cancer prevention, survival, and survivorship.
For a full list of Rees-Punia’s publications, visit her Google Scholar page.
My hobbies include boxing, weightlifting, cooking, and learning languages.