A magazine for friends of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

Qigong Can Improve Cancer-related Fatigue


Researchers find the mind-body practice was as effective as more standard exercise programs.

Fatigue is a common, debilitating and often long-term side effect of cancer as well as its treatment. Researchers at Brown University’s Carney Institute for Brain Science found that people with cancer-related fatigue who practiced qigong, a mind-body movement practice, showed clinically significant improvements in fatigue over the course of a 10-week study. And qigong was as effective at reducing fatigue as a more energy-intensive exercise and nutrition program, the researchers found.

The new study, led by Stephanie R. Jones, PhD, an associate professor of neuroscience, who built on work by the late Assistant Professor of Family Medicine Catherine Kerr, PhD, analyzed the effects of a regular qigong practice on cancer-related fatigue and compared the results to fatigue treatments involving exercise.

As many as 45 percent of cancer survivors report moderate to severe fatigue even years after stopping treatment. The researchers note that this fatigue can be more burdensome and disruptive to daily life than ongoing pain, nausea, and depression. While studies show that exercise can help improve fatigue, there is not yet enough evidence to recommend a particular type of exercise or regimen. In addition, a moderate-to-vigorous exercise program may feel too intense or overwhelming for some patients with fatigue.

“Our study is important because it is the first randomized clinical trial to directly compare qigong practice to the best standards of care for fatigue—namely, exercise,” Jones says. “It would have been hard to predict that people who perform gentle non-aerobic intentional movements would show the same level of improvement as those who go through moderate strength training and aerobic exercise. It is exciting that our findings establish that this is indeed the case.”

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