COLUMBUS — Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation leave breast-cancer patients with bodies that are tired, weakened, and changed.
Yoga, which boosts strength and flexibility and cultivates a better understanding of the connection between body and mind, helps the women fight fatigue and might lower inflammation, which is linked to disease, according to research.
The study of 200 breast-cancer survivors 27 to 76 years old found that those who practiced yoga twice weekly for three months saw significant, lasting improvement. The Ohio State University research was published online Monday in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
The study, led by Jan Kiecolt-Glaser, OSU psychiatry and psychology professor, found that self-reported fatigue was 41 percent lower in the yoga practitioners after three months. When the researchers looked at blood markers measuring inflammation, they found a reduction of as much as 15 percent in the yoga group.
The differences grew with time, even though yoga was not required after the initial 12-week period. Fatigue in the yoga group was 57 percent lower after six months, and inflammation was reduced as much as 20 percent.
“The more the women practiced, the more the reduction in both fatigue and inflammation,” said Ms. Kiecolt-Glaser. That’s what scientists call a “dose response,” and it helps confirm that the yoga is what was helping, she said.
Ms. Kiecolt-Glaser said she was pleased to see reduced inflammation even though the women didn’t lose weight, because some earlier research seemed to connect the two. She said sleep improved in the yoga group.
“Part of the idea with yoga and related kinds of practices is it may make people less stress-responsive overall. If you can turn down the thermostat in terms of reacting to stressors, you may be able to lower inflammation,” she said.
The study did not find a decrease in depression for the yoga participants.
This study puts more science behind the recommendation that cancer patients pursue physical activity after treatment, said Dr. Kristine Slam, a surgeon and director of cancer services at Mount Carmel East hospital. Dr. Slam was not part of the study, but some of her patients were participants.
Dr. Slam said inflammation in the body has been shown to increase the chances a cancer will return or spread.
Historically, some breast-cancer patients have been advised against exercise because of concerns about lymphedema, a common side effect of breast-cancer surgery that happens when fluid builds up after lymph-node removal. Now, though, most exercise is viewed as beneficial.
“Cancer treatments are for most people extremely debilitating, painful, disempowering, and disfiguring,” said Marcia Miller, who developed the yoga practice for the study and co-owns Yoga on High in Columbus. “After treatment is finished, I think that’s an incredibly vulnerable time in a woman’s life.”
She alternated the classes so that some were more demanding and others were more relaxing. An important element were poses that promote healing and relaxation of the nervous system, Ms. Miller said.