Interesting findings about the impact of starting a yoga practice on sleep issues and inflammation markers have resulted from a study of 200 female breast cancer survivors. Fatigue and sleep problems pose significant challenges for these women.
“This [study] showed that modest yoga practice over a period of several months could have substantial benefits for breast cancer survivors,” said lead study author Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD, professor of psychiatry and psychology at The Ohio State University in Columbus, in an OSU news release.
The study demonstrated that, even for beginners, sticking with a consistent yoga practice could reduce both fatigue and inflammation, leading to welcome health improvements. Kiecolt-Glaser noted that, with 200 participants, this is the largest known randomized, controlled trial of yoga to include biological measures.
Investigators enrolled 200 women, aged 27–76, who had completed all their breast cancer treatments and were new to yoga. One hundred yoga group participants practiced in small groups of 4–20 people for 90 minutes twice weekly for 3 months. One hundred control group members followed their normal routines. Researchers encouraged yoga group members to practice at home, logging the length and frequency of sessions. Survey data and blood samples were collected at baseline, after 3 months and after 6 months to measure fatigue, energy levels and sleep quality (among other factors) and to evaluate three inflammation markers.
A senior instructor designed the yoga routine, which was then taught by six additional yoga instructors. All teachers were registered with Yoga Alliance. The protocol included mat, standing and seated postures, restorative poses and pranayama breathing exercises.
Data analysis showed that immediately after the end of the 3-month program, yoga participants had 41% less fatigue and 12% more energy than control group subjects. Inflammation markers were 10%–15% lower among yoga subjects.
Three months later, yoga practitioners continued to show benefits, with 57% less fatigue and 13%– 20% less inflammation than those who were not doing yoga.
Researchers also analyzed data from subjects who added home practice, and found that those who practiced more frequently experienced more improvements in symptoms and even greater reductions in two of the three inflammatory markers that were measured. All yoga group members reported better sleep.
“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,” said Kiecolt-Glaser. “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.”
The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (2014; doi: 10.1200/ jco.2013.51.8860). To watch a video about the study, go to http://cancer.osu.edu/mediaroom/releases/Pages/Yoga-Can-Lower-Fatigue,-Inflamation-in-Breast-Cancer-Survivors.aspx.