A study presented Saturday at the International Association of Yoga Therapists Symposium for Yoga Therapy Research in Los Angeles suggests that yoga may ease menopause symptoms in breast cancer survivors.
Breast cancer survivors suffer more severe menopause symptoms than other women, largely because the drugs used to prevent cancer recurrence can exacerbate the symptoms of menopause (hello hot flashes!) Furthermore, women with breast cancer are very much limited in their treatment options for menopause symptoms because traditional aides, such as hormone replacement therapy, may increase their risk of future recurrence.
For the study, a team of researchers from Duke University Medical Center evaluated the self-reported menopause symptoms of 37 women with early stage breast cancer enrolled in an eight week “Yoga of Awareness” program. Although based on traditional yoga techniques and poses, the Yoga of Awareness program was designed specifically to reduce stress and create a heightened sense of the body’s wellbeing.
Compared to a control group with no intervention, women in the yoga group experienced significant reductions in the frequency and severity of menopause symptoms, including hot flashes, fatigue, joint pain, sleep disturbance and symptom-related distress. This trend continued even three months after the yoga program had ended.
These findings dovetail nicely with a 2006 study conducted by University of Texas, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center researchers that found that “even a short yoga program – including meditation, relaxation, breathing exercises, stretching, imagery and physical movements – can be very useful at reducing the side effects that come with breast cancer treatment,” including fatigue and daytime sleepiness.
Researchers in the first study recommend that “women seeking similar results could consult with an experienced yoga instructor to learn some of the same techniques” and suggest that patients work with instructors to identify a routine that will maximize symptom relief.
With almost no exceptions, yoga is the one exercise that just about everyone can do. It doesn’t require any equipment (although a mat certainly makes things more pleasant!), can be done at any time of the day and in any location (office yoga anyone?), and can be tailored to suit the needs/physical limitations of its students. Plus, when evidence such as this suggests that its health benefits may extend beyond the aesthetic, it makes the idea of giving it a shot that much more appealing. Now granted, we’re not suggesting that you pack in your conventional training routine for everyday yoga sessions, but incorporating at least some of the moves certainly won’t do you any harm and, as a side benefit, may actually boost your performance in other exercise areas (because after all, flexibility, stamina, and control are integral to just about every physical activity we do!)
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