Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Yoga may reduce fatigue and inflammation after breast cancer

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Feeling tired after breast cancer treatment? Try adding a weekly yoga class to your schedule for more energy during the day.  

A recent study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that women who practiced yoga regularly for three months after treatment were less tired than women who didn’t. The women in the yoga group also had reduced levels of inflammation. While inflammation helps the body heal, it can be harmful at high levels.

Cancer survivors and anyone who does minimal physical activity tend to have higher levels of inflammation. As a result, the researchers wrote, cancer survivors are twice as likely to be in poor health than people who’ve never had cancer.

For the study, the researchers followed 200 breast cancer survivors over six months. The women were between ages 27 and 76, and had never done yoga before. They were randomly split into two groups: those who would take yoga classes and those who wouldn’t. The 90-minute classes were of the yoga style called Hatha yoga, which emphasizes gentle, flowing poses.

Here’s what the study found:

  • After the classes ended, the women who practiced yoga reported having more vitality and better sleep.
  • Three months later, the women in the yoga group were less fatigued and continued to have higher vitality scores.
  • At the six-month mark, the women who practiced yoga reported having 60 percent less fatigue. Their inflammation levels were 13-20 percent lower than the women who didn’t practice yoga.

Fatigue is common among cancer patients, as 33-55 percent of patients experiencing sleep disturbances due to their cancer treatment or the cancer itself.  Among the general population, 10-15 percent of Americans have trouble getting a good night’s sleep.

Another study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, published last year, found that yoga can help cancer survivors sleep better naturally. Most of the survivors taking part in the study had been treated for breast cancer. Study participants who practiced yoga twice weekly reported significant improvements in sleep quality and sleep duration.

Those in the yoga group ended up reducing their use of prescription sleep aids by 21 percent per week, while those who didn’t practice yoga increased their use by 5 percent per week.

Yoga may be a good choice for any cancer patient or survivor who wants to improve sleep and reduce daytime fatigue. Consider starting with low-to-moderate intensity yoga, and make sure the instructor has been trained and credentialed. It’s important to talk with your physician before starting any exercise routine and to be aware of your physical limitations to avoid injury when exercising.

Learn about other ways to reduce fatigue.