Tai Chi Helps Clear “Chemo Brain”

Many cancer patients suffer memory lapses, poor concentration, and a “spaced out” feeling long after they have received chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Apparently Tai Chi can help alleviate the effects of this so-called “chemo brain.”

In a pilot study, 23 women with mild to moderate cognitive impairment a year or more after chemotherapy treatments took a 60-minute Tai Chi class twice a week for 10 weeks.

The women were tested on memory, language, attention, stress, mood, and fatigue before and after the 10-week sessions.

The results indicate the women made significant improvements in their psychological health and cognitive abilities.

In other words, they had sharper thinking.

“Scientists have known for years that Tai Chi positively impacts physical and emotional health, but this small study also uncovered evidence that it might help cognitive functioning as well,” said Stephanie Reid-Arndt, assistant professor and chair of the Department of Health Psychology in the School of Health Professions at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

“We know this activity can help people with their quality of life in general, and with this new study, we are encouraged about how Tai Chi could also help those who have received chemotherapy.”

Dr. Reid-Arnt notes that Tai Chi combines exercise, learning, and mindfulness, all of which have been shown in previous research to improve cognitive abilities.

Tai chi students learn intricate routines and mind-body skills that emphasize breathing awareness, active relaxation, and slow movements, which are well suited for cancer survivors who have physical impairments.

The study, published online in the journal Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, is the first to measure cognitive abilities in former chemotherapy patients in relation to a specific exercise program.

“Tai Chi really helps individuals focus their attention, and this study also demonstrates how good Tai Chi could be for anyone, whether or not they have undergone treatment for cancer,” Reid-Arndt says.

“Due to the small size of this study, we really need to test a larger group of individuals to gain a better understanding of the specific benefits of this activity for patients who have been treated with chemotherapy and how significant these improvements might be.”

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