Reduce Fatigue in Cancer treatment with Tai Chi

 “If you’re fighting cancer, chances are you’re also fighting fatigue. Fatigue is being tired – physically, mentally, and emotionally. It’s the most common side effect of cancer treatment, and it often hits without warning. Everyday activities – talking on the phone, shopping for groceries, even lifting a fork to eat – can be overwhelming tasks.” – American Cancer Society


Fatigue accompanies cancer and its treatment in from half to all cancer patients depending upon the type of cancer and treatment regimen. The fatigue can continue even after completion of successful treatment. The patient feels weak, tired, weary, or exhausted all of the time and sleep does not relieve the tiredness. Symptoms can include prolonged, extreme tiredness following an activity, arms and legs feeling heavy and hard to move, lack of engagement in normal daily activities, trouble concentrating, thinking clearly, or remembering, feeling frustrated, irritable, and upset, putting less energy into personal appearance, and spending more time in bed or sleeping. The cause of cancer-related fatigue is unknown.


It is easy to confuse cancer-related fatigue with depression. Both are subjective experiences and have many common symptoms. The one distinguishing feature is that in depression the individual is unable to experience pleasure and feels sad or unworthy, while this is generally not true regarding cancer patients. Nonetheless, it is very difficult to distinguish the fatigue from depression. The best treatment for cancer-related fatigue appears to be encouragement to engage in moderate exercise along with relaxation and body awareness training. The ancient Chinese practice of Tai Chi has all of these properties. It’s a light exercise that produces relaxation and body awareness. So, it would seem reasonable to expect that Tai Chi practice would be effective in treating cancer-related fatigue. Indeed, Tai Chi has been shown to improve the immune system and reduce inflammation in cancer (see


In today’s Research News article “Tai Chi Exercise for Cancer Related Fatigue in Patients with Lung Cancer Undergoing Chemotherapy: A Randomized Controlled Trial”

Zhang and colleagues randomly assigned lung cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy to either a Tai Chi or low-impact exercise program practiced every other day for one hour during the course of chemotherapy treatment. They found that during treatment overall fatigue increased in both groups, but the Tai Chi group showed a significantly smaller increase than the low-impact exercise group. The Tai Chi treatment decreased general and physical fatigue and increased vigor. These results were found both 6 and 12 weeks after treatment.


These results are especially significant because of the nature of the trial wherein Tai Chi exercise was compared to another comparable active physical exercise. The fact that Tai Chi was superior to low-impact exercise implies that Tai Chi has particular properties beyond its exercise property that are important for the relief of cancer-related fatigue. It is possible that the concentration and mindfulness components of Tai Chi practice are important for its effectiveness. Indeed, mindfulness programs in general have been shown to be effective in cancer treatment (see It remains for future research to further determine what are the crucial aspects of Tai Chi practice that counteract cancer-related fatigue.


Regardless of the mechanism it is clear that engagement in Tai Chi practice is an effective treatment for cancer-related fatigue in lung cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Future research should attempt to extend these findings to other forms of cancer and other stages of treatment and recovery.


So, reduce fatigue in cancer treatment with tai chi.


“Research unequivocally shows that Tai Chi helps cancer patients through a variety of ways. One point to remember, though, is that regular exercise is paramount for maximal, sustained benefits. For cancer patients to receive the best results possible, therefore, it is advisable that people embrace Tai Chi as a way of life and not a one-time thing.” Willian Betts


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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