Skip to main content
Skip to navigation

Aug. 25, 2011 Volume 33, No. 1

Pilot study: Chinese martial art can reduce effects of chemotherapy


Tai Chi improves cognitive functioning

More than 11.4 million Americans are currently living with cancer, according to the American Cancer Society, and while cancer treatments are plentiful, many have negative side effects.

Previous studies have indicated, for example, that some patients who receive chemotherapy also experience cognitive declines, including decreases in verbal fluency and memory.

But, a University of Missouri health psychologist has found evidence that Tai Chi, a Chinese martial art, might help overcome some of those problems.

Stephanie Reid-Arndt, assistant professor and chair of the Department of Health Psychology in the School of Health Professions, said scientists have long known Tai Chi improves physical and emotional health. But a pilot study that followed a group of women who had received chemotherapy uncovered evidence that Tai Chi might help cognitive functioning as well.

“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,” Reid-Arndt said. “I also hope this encourages more people to think about Tai Chi positively on a broader scale in their lives.”

Tai Chi involves practicing slow motion routines and is based on several principles, including mindfulness, breathing awareness, active relaxation and slow movements. The emphasis on slow movement makes Tai Chi particularly suited to a wide range of fitness levels, which makes it very relevant for those who have had chemotherapy and might be experiencing physical limitations as a result, Reid-Arndt said.

The women in the pilot study participated in a 60-minute Tai Chi class two times a week for 10 weeks. The women were tested on memory, language, attention, stress, mood and fatigue before and after the 10-week sessions. According to Reid-Arndt, the results of the tests indicated that the women had made significant improvements in their psychological health and cognitive abilities.

“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 said. “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.”

The study was published recently in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice.