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Tai Chi May Boost Cancer Survival, Hong Kong Study Finds

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Tai chi, the ancient Chinese martial art performed as a low-impact exercise, could help improve the one-year survival rate for patients with advanced cancer, according to a new study from the University of Hong Kong’s medical school.

The four-year research project involved 226 patients with advanced lung cancer who were randomly assigned to participate in tai chi, aerobic exercise, or a self-management control group. Both the tai chi and aerobic groups showed significant improvements in sleep quality, anxiety, depression, cardiorespiratory function, physical function, daily step counts, and circadian rhythms compared to the control group.

Notably, the tai chi participants had a 65% lower risk of mortality over the study period, suggesting the mind-body practice may offer a survival advantage over standard care alone.

“Tai chi’s emphasis on the mind-body connection offers a holistic approach that goes beyond physical exercise alone,” said Naomi Takemura, a research assistant professor involved in the study. “The meditative and mindful aspects of tai chi may help patients cope with psychological distress, reduce anxiety and enhance their overall quality of life and one-year survival rate.”

The tai chi group attended 16 weeks of twice-weekly, instructor-led sessions. The aerobic group met twice a month for treadmill walking, stationary cycling, and resistance training over the same period.

While both exercise interventions provided benefits over usual care, tai chi demonstrated superior results for improving sleep quality, reducing fatigue, and improving balance.

The researchers say the study highlights the potential of non-pharmacological interventions to help cancer patients manage symptoms and side effects without adding further medication. Poor sleep and psychological distress are common issues that can impact survival and quality of life.

“Patients with advanced lung cancer often experience sleep disturbances and associated psychological symptoms which impact their overall survival and quality of life, while pharmacological interventions can induce side effects that significantly worsen cancer-related symptoms,” the researchers said.