Researcher to study yoga-based program to reduce cancer risk in rural adults

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Obesity is recognized as one of the leading causes of cancer and accounts for roughly 14 to 20 percent of cancer deaths. Physical activity can reduce obesity and cancer risk, but most U.S. adults fail to meet leisure-time physical activity recommendations.

Scherezade K. Mama, assistant professor of kinesiology, seeks to better understand and reduce these risks. A recently awarded American Cancer Society Institutional Research Grant for $29,717 from the Penn State Cancer Institute will allow Mama and colleagues to study a faith-based, mind-body intervention that seeks to increase physical activity and reduce health disparities, including cancer risks, among those who reside in rural areas.

Mama and her team are currently recruiting study participants.

The intervention, "Harmony & Health," is a yoga-focused mind and body intervention that uses stretching, breathing, prayer and relaxation strategies to increase physical activity, reduce sedentary time, and reduce stress among adults in Centre County, Pennsylvania.

“Physical inactivity and obesity are especially prevalent among African American and rural adults, contributing to health disparities in these populations and putting them at greater risk for cancer and other chronic diseases. Thus, innovative and sustainable strategies to increase physical activity are needed in this population,” Mama said.

Fifty men and 50 women will participate in Harmony & Health for 14 weeks. Participants will complete three in-person assessments, participate in a mind-body relaxation and stretching program twice a week for eight weeks, and practice stretching and breathing at home. The study will be conducted at the Health Disparities & Physical Activity Research Laboratory (HDPAR) at Penn State and at the Unity Church of Jesus Christ in State College, Pennsylvania.

The study is a replication of a pilot study conducted by Mama in a mega church in Houston, Texas.

“If effective, findings from this study will expand our understanding on the use of mind-body practices to improve overall health and wellness in underserved populations and will inform future research efforts,” Mama said.

Eligible participants must be at least 18 years of age, overweight or obese, able to read and write in English, exercise less than two hours per week, and not have any health conditions that will be worsened by physical activity. Participants can be any race or ethnicity.

No equipment is needed for the study, and participants will be compensated for their time. Space is limited. For more information call the HDPAR Laboratory at 814-863-0132 or email

Last Updated July 28, 2017