Phoenix, Arizona




The research of Diane K. Ehlers, Ph.D., focuses on the effects of physical activity and exercise training on quality-of-life-related health outcomes in individuals living with cancer and older adults without a history of cancer. She uses biobehavioral models and health behavior theory frameworks to test physical activity's health benefits in these populations. Dr. Ehlers' current work specifically evaluates the effects of aerobic exercise training on neurocognitive function in women with a history of breast cancer.

Focus areas

  • Exercise and neurocognitive function. Much of Dr. Ehlers' research has focused on the effects of regular physical activity and aerobic exercise on cognitive performance, brain structure and function, and subjective memory. Evidence from her work in older adults without a history of cancer and women with breast cancer has indicated that regular activity at a moderate to vigorous intensity can ameliorate age- and cancer-related cognitive declines. This research also has suggested that cardiorespiratory fitness, cancer-related fatigue, brain functional connectivity and sleep disturbance may have a relationship with physical activity's effects on cognitive function.

    Her current work in this area includes a phase 2 trial to test the effects of a community-delivered aerobic exercise program on cognitive performance, brain structure and function, and cardiorespiratory fitness in women who have recently completed primary treatment for breast cancer. Findings from this study will also provide information on the implementation success of the community-delivered program using an implementation science perspective.

  • Theory-based physical activity interventions. Dr. Ehlers' work includes testing health behavior theory-based determinants and outcomes of physical activity behaviors. She focuses specifically on social cognitive theory- and self-determination theory-based strategies to promote physical activity behavior change. The clinical trials she leads as part of her health outcomes research also are founded in these theories.
  • Other physical activity exposures and outcomes. Also included in Dr. Ehlers' research is the investigation of the health benefits and uptake of novel physical activity prescriptions, such as reducing prolonged sitting and performing high-intensity interval training. Large-scale adoption of regular physical activity consistent with federal guidelines remains a challenge. The goal of this research is to understand the health benefits of and adherence to less studied physical activity prescriptions that may be more accessible to or preferred by certain patient populations.

    Across all these focus areas, Dr. Ehlers and her team also examine physical activity's effects on other quality-of-life-related outcomes. These include psychosocial function (for example, self-efficacy, self-esteem, fatigue, depression), physical function (balance, mobility, strength) and body composition. These outcomes, often linked with cognitive function, are important contributors to cancer survivors' and older adults' perceptions of quality of life.

Significance to patient care

Dr. Ehlers' work on physical activity aims to provide necessary evidence to inform clinical guidance for symptom management in cancer survivorship and aging. Likewise, this work may help identify patients at higher risk of functional decline and inform prevention and treatment efforts. A major goal of Dr. Ehlers' research is to contribute evidence to the larger body of work aiming to establish physical activity as part of the standard of cancer care.

Professional highlights

  • Adjunct faculty, College of Health Solutions, Arizona State University, 2022-present.
  • Community Health Assessment and Improvement Measures Program Partnership award, Center for Clinical and Translational Science, Mayo Clinic, 2023.


Administrative Appointment

  1. Senior Associate Consultant II-Research, Division of Epidemiology, Department of Quantitative Health Sciences

Academic Rank

  1. Associate Professor of Epidemiology


  1. Postdoctoral Training - Kinesiology & Community Health University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
  2. PhD - Physical Activity, Nutrition and Wellness Arizona State University
  3. MA - English. Minor: Teaching, Learning & Education University of Nebraska Lincoln
  4. BA - English. Concentration: Literary Theory and Criticism. Secondary Major: Film Studies University of Nebraska Lincoln

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