Centres and Units

Behavioural Medicine Laboratory

The Behavioural Medicine Laboratory is focused on generating new knowledge on how physical activity can help cancer patients prepare for treatments (prehabilitation), cope with treatments, recover after treatments (rehabilitation), and improve long term quality of life and survival.

Our research seeks to advance the scientific understanding of the interrelationships among the behavioural, biological and psychosocial aspects of physical activity and cancer.

Who We Are

The laboratory is overseen by Dr. Kerry S. Courneya, Director of the Behavioural Medicine Laboratory, Canada Research Chair in Physical Activity and Cancer, and a Professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation.

The Behavioural Medicine Fitness Centre works closely with the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton. The Institute's experts assist us in our work at the Centre.

Graduate Student Opportunities 

Dr. Courneya typically supervises 4-8 graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in the Behavioural Medicine Laboratory (BML) and opportunities are available regularly.

- Most students in the BML hold external scholarships or receive full research assistanships (RAs) as part of their training
- Students work 12 hours per week in the BML

Prior to applying for either graduate studies or a post-doctoral fellowship, those interested should contact Dr. Courneya to determine if their research interests fit with those of the BML, and also what opportunities are available for supervision. Contact Dr. Kerry Courneya at kerry.courneya@ualberta.ca or at 780.492.1031

About the Laboratory

  • Behavioural Medicine Fitness Centre

    Fitness equipment in the BMFCExercise intervention studies take place at the Behavioural Medicine Fitness Centre (BMFC).

    The primary research participants are:

    - cancer patients from the Cross Cancer Institute (CCI)
    - cancer survivors from the Edmonton and surrounding Community
    - persons from the community at high risk for cancer

    The BMFC is located in the Research Transition Facility and is fully equipped with the latest exercise equipment. The Centre is equipped with:

    - Life Fitness treadmills,
    - Life Fitness recumbent and upright cycle ergometers,
    - Life Fitness elliptical cross trainers,
    - APEX selectorized resistance machines.
    - Other equipment also includes hand weights, exercise balls, and a stretching area.

    The BMFC operates primarily by appointment.

    Complimentary parking is available at the BMFC. Our parking spots are on the west side of the building, in the EDC parking lot.

    - Once you have joined a study, you will be issued a parking pass to use during the duration of your participation
    - Please place your parking pass on your car's dashboard
    - If parking stalls are full, please purchase a ticket at the ticket booth and we will reimburse you.
    - Cost is $1.25 per 30 minutes and correct change is required

    How to get to the Behavioural Medicine Fitness Centre

    The Behavioural Medicine Fitness Centre is located at the University of Alberta, west of the Health Sciences LRT Station, in the Research Transition Facility, 8308-114 Street.

    - From 87 Avenue, turn south next to the Jubilee Theatre
    - Our parking lot is located just south of the Jubilee building (not the parkade)
    - Pay stalls are located at the entrance of the outdoor parking lot

    The BMFC is located at the northwest corner and the only access to the BMFC is through the northwest door.

  • Body Composition Testing
    Study participants' body composition will be assessed using a non-invasive technique known as dual energy x-ray absorbitometry (DXA).

    DXA measures bone density (AP spine and femur), lean tissue mass, and total and regional body fat (i.e., abdominal body fat). This body composition measure requires you to wear a hospital gown and lie quietly on the apparatus for approximately five minutes while an external scan of the entire body is performed.

    Participant Information for DXA Scan
    The test takes place at the Cross Cancer Institute.
  • Exercise Testing Room

    Study participants complete various physiological tests such as a graded exercise test in one of our Exercise Testing Rooms. The first is located in the basement of the Cross Cancer Institute and the second is located at the Behavioral Medicine Fitness Centre.

    The Exercise Testing Room are equipped with an:

    - Ergoline Electronically Braked Bike and Woodway Treadmill for the aerobic exercise tests
    - Metabolic measurements are determined with the Parvo Medics TrueOne® 2400 Metabolic Measurement System

  • Laboratory Operations

    We conduct multidisciplinary, biopsychosocial research in three broad areas:

    - The effects of exercise on cancer control outcomes such as prevention, coping, rehabilitation, health promotion, palliation, and survival,
    - the determinants of exercise for cancer control, and
    - the effectiveness of interventions designed to promote exercise for cancer control.

    The Behavioural Medicine laboratory is involved in many large scale case-control and cohort studies as well as single-site and multi-centre randomized controlled trials, with a variety of cancer sites being represented, including colorectal, prostate, testicular, hematologic, gynecologic, and breast cancer.

Research Studies

Here is a sample of some of the studies that are in progress

  • Alberta Moving Beyond Breast Cancer Cohort Study

    CIHR Team in Physical Activity and Breast Cancer Survivorship: The Alberta Moving Beyond Breast Cancer (AMBER) Cohort Study

    Research Description

    The objective of our research team is to study physical activity (PA) and health-related fitness (HRF) to improve breast cancer survivorship from the time of diagnosis and for the balance of life. We propose to achieve this objective by establishing a large cohort of breast cancer survivors with a comprehensive assessment of subjective and objective measures of physical activity and health-related fitness (e.g., physical fitness, physical functioning, body composition). This cohort will allow us to address important questions related to physical activity and health-related fitness including: (a) examining associations with important outcomes such as disease outcomes, symptoms, late effects, psychosocial outcomes, and quality of life, (b) examining determinants such as medical, social cognitive, and environmental, and (c) examining mechanisms and moderators of observed associations. These data will help inform strategies to promote physical activity and health-related fitness to improve breast cancer survivorship.

    Our study will include:

    - a comprehensive self-report measure of PA developed by our team that measures the type, frequency, intensity, and duration of PA at work, at home, and for recreation and transportation
    - a self-report assessment of sedentary behavior (e.g., television viewing, sitting time) that has emerged as an important independent predictor of disease outcomes in other populations including the risk of developing ovarian cancer
    - state-of-the-science objective measures of PA and sedentary behavior (i.e., accelerometers)
    - a comprehensive assessment of HRF including standardized and validated measures of cardiorespiratory fitness, musculoskeletal fitness, and body composition
    - a full assessment of biomarkers purported to mediate possible associations between PA, HRF, and breast cancer outcomes
    - a comprehensive assessment of PROs including quality of life, fatigue, and cognitive function using standardized and validated measures
    - a complete assessment of potential determinants of PA and HRF based on a social ecological model that includes social cognitive and environmental correlates.

    The cohort study will provide the most comprehensive inquiry into the role of PA and HRF in breast cancer survivorship to date. The data generated will allow us to answer key questions related to PA and HRF in breast cancer survivors including:

    - the independent and interactive associations of PA and HRF with important health outcomes in breast cancer survivors including disease outcomes (e.g., recurrence, breast cancer-specific mortality, overall survival), treatment completion rates, symptoms and side effects (e.g., pain, lymphedema, fatigue, cognitive dysfunction), and PROS (e.g., QoL, anxiety, depression, self-esteem, happiness)
    - the determinants of PA and HRF including demographic, medical, social cognitive, and environmental variables
    - the mediators of any observed associations between PA, HRF, and health outcomes including biological, functional, and psychosocial outcomes
    - the moderators of any observed associations including demographic, medical, and biological factors.

    The AMBER cohort will serve as the basis for five initial research projects proposed within our CIHR Team Grant. The overall aim is to establish a cohort of breast cancer survivors in whom the role of PA, HRF in breast cancer outcomes can be examined. Specific objectives have been established for the five initial projects that will use this cohort. This large cohort will be built in Alberta over approximately a 4 year period with assessments at multiple time points using subjective and objective measures of PA, HRF, and health.

    Overview of Study Design and Methods

    A prospective cohort study is proposed that will recruit 1500 survivors of incident, histologically-confirmed, primary breast cancer from Edmonton (i.e., Cross Cancer Institute) and Calgary (i.e., Tom Baker Cancer Centre) who will be followed for a minimum of five years postbaseline assessment. A rapid case ascertainment method using the Alberta Cancer Registry (ACR) will be used to identify cases prior to surgery and to enrol them into this study. Assessments will be made at baseline (within 2 months of surgery and generally prior to the initiation of adjuvant therapy), and at 1 and 3 years follow-up of their PA, HRF, PROs, determinants of PA, and lymphedema through a combination of objective and self-reported measurements. PA, PROs and determinants of PA will be followed up at 5 years. Blood samples will also be taken at baseline, 1 and 3 years follow-up. The cohort members will be followed up by regular vital status linkages and through chart abstractions to identify progressions, recurrences, and new primaries that occur in this cohort. Five projects are initially proposed that will use this cohort to examine separate scientific questions regarding the associations between PA, HRF and breast cancer outcomes.

    Additional information about the AMBER Trial at www.amberstudy.com or email amberstudy@ualberta.ca 

  • Colon Health and Life-Long Exercise Change


    Observational studies indicate that physical activity (PA) is strongly associated with improved disease outcomes in colon cancer survivors, but a randomized controlled trial is needed to determine whether the association is causal and whether new policies to promote exercise are justified.


    The CO.21 Colon Health and Life-Long Exercise Change (CHALLENGE) trial undertaken by the National Cancer Institute of Canada Clinical Trials Group (NCIC CTG) is designed to determine the effects of a structured PA intervention on outcomes for survivors of high-risk stage II or III colon cancer who have completed adjuvant therapy within the previous 2–6 months.


    Trial participants (n = 962) will be stratified by centre, disease stage, body mass index, and performance status, and will be randomly assigned to a structured PA intervention or to general health education materials. The PA intervention will consist of a behavioural support program and supervised PA sessions delivered over a 3-year period, beginning with regular face-to-face sessions and tapering to less frequent face-to-face or telephone sessions. The primary endpoint is disease-free survival. Important secondary endpoints include multiple patient-reported outcomes, objective physical functioning, biologic correlative markers, and an economic analysis.


    Cancer survivors and cancer care professionals are interested in the potential role of PA to improve multiple disease-related outcomes, but a randomized controlled trial is needed to provide compelling evidence to justify changes in health care policies and practice.

  • Intense Exercise for Survival among Men with Metastatic Castrate-Resistant Prostate Cancer

    Exercise is known to be safe and result in improved physical function and quality of life for most individuals with cancer. However, we know very little about whether exercise can increase overall survival and reduce disease progression, skeletal-related events and pain in patients with metastatic castrate-resistant prostate cancer.

    There are 2 arms which patients can be randomized onto on the INTERVAL Trial. Participants on both arms will receive usual care from their doctor, newsletters, questionnaires and periodic fitness testing. Those on the intervention arm will also perform 2 years of supervised exercise sessions made up of high intensity aerobic training and resistance training. The trial is worldwide multi-site trial looking to have 866 people join the trial – 45 of those will be from Edmonton.

    The INTERVAL Trial will help us determine if high intensity aerobic and resistance training plus psychosocial support increases overall survival compared to psychosocial support alone in prostate cancer patients. The INTERVAL Trial is proposing the use of exercise as medicine, concomitant with other therapies, to improve quality of life, improve drug efficacy, change tumor biology, and ultimately increase and prolong survival in metastatic castrate-resistant prostate cancer patients.

  • Student and Staff-Led Studies

    New studies coming soon

For Cancer Survivors

Our laboratory has a number of resources that may be helpful if you are a cancer survivor, or are caring for someone who is. Our focus is on the benefits of physical activity and our resources will help you to incorporate this all-important facet of your treatment into your wellness regimen.

All of these resources have been compiled from the numerous studies we have conducted in the Behavioural Medicine Laboratory.

You may download any of the resources in PDF format. Though these are copyrighted texts they are provided here for you to use as you journey to wellness, or support another in theirs.

Exercise for Health Guidebook. Download Exercise for Health: An Exercise Guide for Breast Cancer Survivors© in PDF format or open the guide (below). This guide book is designed to help breast cancer survivors increase their physical activity. View the guide here.