for Cancer Survivors: Physical and Psychological Benefits
S. Nicole Culos-Reed, Ph.D., Linda E.Carlson, Ph.D.,
Lisa M. Daroux, & Susi Hately-Aldous
Physical activity provides a number of physical and psychological benefits
to cancer survivors. Some benefits of activity include lessening the impact
of detrimental cancer-related symptoms and treatment side-effects such as
fatigue, pain, and nausea, and improving overall well-being and quality of
life. The purpose of this study was to examine the physical and psychological
benefits of a 7-week yoga program for cancer survivors, offering an alternative
form of exercise to the traditional vigorous workout.
This study was designed based on the theory of planned behaviour
which suggests that attitude, confidence and social support predict behavioural
intentions, thereby affecting behaviour itself. Considering these variables,
the yoga was practiced in small groups of 10 participants, with each participant
getting enough individual attention to ensure they could safely and successfully
perform the exercises.
The style of yoga used was a modified version of hatha yoga called yoga therapy.
Influenced by the Iyengar tradition of yoga and the study of kinesiology,
the yoga asanas (or postures) are modified for people who are particularly
stiff, immobile, injured, ill, or under extreme stress. Yoga therapy enables
the student to move slowly and safely into the modified asana concentrating
initially on relaxing their body, breathing fully, and developing awareness
of the sensations in their body and thoughts in their mind. As the sessions
progress, the student moves from the modified version toward the full version
of the asanas, building flexibility, strength, and balance while maintaining
that initial understanding of being relaxed and aware. As a result, the student
is always moving mindfully and in their pain-free range of motion while improving
at their optimum speed.
Significant differences were seen between the yoga participants (n=20) and
the control group (n=18) after the 7-week intervention, both within psychosocial
(i.e., enhanced global quality of life and emotional function, and diminished
stress, emotional irritability, mood disturbance, tension, depression, anger,
and confusion) and physical (i.e., lower resting heart rate and cardiopulmonary
arousal and greater cardiovascular endurance) variables. There were also significant
improvements in the yoga participants physical and psychosocial variables,
comparing their before measures to those taken after the yoga
These initial findings suggest that yoga has significant potential, and should
be further explored as a beneficial physical activity option for cancer survivors.
Gentler forms of physical activity may be an appropriate exercise alternative
for people with illness, offering both physical and psychosocial benefits.