The ancient practice of yoga is believed to improve the flow of energy in the body and help encourage healing. Many studies show that yoga can relieve stress and ease muscle tension. New evidence suggests it may offer cancer patients special benefits.
In a study of 44 volunteers conducted at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, in Winston-Salem, N.C., women with breast cancer who took part in a form of yoga called restorative yoga reported feeling more positive and less depressed. They also felt less fatigue than a control group.
Researchers at Bangalore Institute of Oncology in Bangalore, India, meanwhile, reported in 2009 that breast cancer patients undergoing treatment who took part in a yoga program experienced less anxiety. A related study of 62 cancer patients showed a significant reduction in treatment-related nausea and vomiting in patients who were took part in a yoga program.
Yoga may have unique benefits, but researchers say almost any form of physical activity can ease the stress of cancer treatment.
Exercise has been shown to blunt the effects of fatigue and depression often experienced by cancer patients. It may even help patients beat the disease. A 2008 study of men with early stage prostate cancer found that those who were encouraged to exercise, eat a low-fat, plant-based diet, and practice stress management techniques fared far better than a control group. After two years, 27 percent of the men in the control group required further treatment for prostate cancer, including surgery, radiation or drugs, compared to only 5 percent of those in the lifestyle group.
“We’re convinced that being active is one of the most important things people with cancer can do,” says Barrie Cassileth, M.D., who directs integrative medicine at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. “Studies show that for patients who were inactive before, the benefit in terms of survival is as high as 50 percent improvement.”
Experts at Sloan-Kettering are so convinced of the benefits of exercise, in fact, that they produced an exercise training program on DVD for patients. As with any treatment, it’s wise to consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise regimen.