Female breast cancer survivors who practiced yoga for as little as three months reduced their fatigue by 57 percent and their inflammation by up to 20 percent, according to new research published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. In fact, the more they practiced yoga, the better their results.
“This showed that modest yoga practice over a period of several months could have substantial benefits for breast cancer survivors,” said Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, Ph.D.,professor of psychiatry and psychology at The Ohio State University and lead author of the study.
“We also think the results could easily generalize to other groups of people who have issues with fatigue and inflammation,” said Kiecolt-Glaser, also an investigator in Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research.
For the study, researchers recruited 200 breast cancer survivors (ages 27 to 76) who were two months to three years past the latest surgical or radiation treatment. Women with breast cancer were chosen for the study because the rigors of treatment can be so exhausting.
“One of the problems they face is a real reduction in cardiorespiratory fitness. The treatment is so debilitating and they are so tired, and the less you do physically, the less you’re able to do. It’s a downward spiral,” Kiecolt-Glaser said. “That’s one reason we think there are higher levels of inflammation in cancer survivors, meaning that an intervention that reduces inflammation could potentially be very beneficial.”
Participants completed several surveys assessing their fatigue, energy level, depressive symptoms, sleep quality, physical activities and food consumption. They also gave blood samples at the beginning of the study that were used to measure levels of several inflammation-related proteins.
Immediately after the active phase of the trial was over, the women who practiced yoga reported, on average, a 41 percent drop in fatigue and a 12 percent higher vitality score compared to the non-yoga group.
“We were really surprised by the data because some more recent studies on exercise have suggested that exercise interventions may not necessarily lower inflammation unless people are substantially overweight or have metabolic problems,” Kiecolt-Glaser said.
“In this group, the women didn’t lose weight, but we saw really marked reductions in inflammation. So this was a particularly striking finding biologically.”
A later analysis showed that more frequent yoga practice resulted in greater changes in fatigue, vitality and depressive symptoms. The yoga group also reported significantly improved sleep compared to the control group.
“Yoga has many parts to it — meditation, breathing, stretching and strengthening. We think the breathing and meditation components were really important in terms of some of the changes we were seeing,” Kiecolt-Glaser said.
“We think improved sleep could be part of the mechanism of what we were seeing. When women were sleeping better, inflammation could have been lowered by that,” Kiecolt-Glaser said. “Reducing fatigue enables women to engage in other activities over time. So yoga may have offered a variety of benefits in addition to the yoga exercises themselves.”
Source: Ohio State University