Mind-Body and Psychosocial Interventions May Similarly Affect Heart Rate Variability Patterns in Cancer Recovery: Implications for a Mechanism of Symptom Improvement

Author: Linda Larkey1, Wonsun Kim1, Dara James1, Moé Kishida1, Maricarmen Vizcaino2, Jennifer Huberty2, Narayanan Krishnamurthi1
1 Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ, USA.
2 College of Health Solutions, Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ, USA.
Conference/Journal: Integr Cancer Ther
Date published: Jan-Dec 2020
Other: Volume ID: 19 , Pages: 1534735420949677 , Special Notes: doi: 10.1177/1534735420949677. , Word Count: 261

Advancements in early detection and treatment of cancer have led to increased survival rates and greater need to identify effective supportive care options for resolving symptoms of survivorship. Many non-pharmacological approaches to symptom management during and after cancer treatment involve emotional self-regulation as a central strategy for improving well-being. Identifying commonalities among these strategies' mechanisms of action may facilitate understanding of what might be useful for optimizing intervention effects. Heart rate variability (HRV) parameters are indicative of improved autonomic nervous system (ANS) balance and resiliency and reduced emotional distress and are thus identified as a mechanism to discuss as a marker of potential for intervention efficacy and a target for optimization.

HRV data from 2 studies, 1 examining a mind-body intervention and 1 examining a psychosocial intervention, are presented as a point of discussion about preliminary associations between the interventions, change in HRV, and emotional distress reduction.

HRV significantly decreased in sympathetic activity in response to a mind-body intervention (Qigong/Tai Chi), and increased vagal tone in response to a psychosocial (storytelling) intervention. In both, these changes in HRV parameters were associated with improved emotional states.

Our preliminary data suggest that HRV may serve as an important marker of underlying changes that mediate emotional regulation; this observation deserves further investigation. If identified as a worthy target, focusing on interventions that improve HRV within the context of interventions for cancer patients may be important to key outcomes and clinical practice.

Keywords: Qigong; Tai Chi Easy; cancer supportive care; cancer survivorship; heart rate variability; mind-body; psychosocial intervention; storytelling.

PMID: 32783546 PMCID: PMC7425257 DOI: 10.1177/1534735420949677