Journal scan

Exercise helps tackle symptoms of schizophrenia

Aerobic exercise can improve brain function in people with schizophrenia, say University of Manchester researchers. 

Aerobic exercise can improve brain function in people with schizophrenia, say University of Manchester researchers who looked at data from ten clinical trials involving 385 patients with the condition.

They found that treating patients with aerobic exercise programmes, such as treadmills and exercise bikes, in combination with medication, improved overall brain functioning more than medication alone.

exercise and schizophrenia
Photo: iStock

The acute phase of schizophrenia is typified by hallucinations and delusions, which are usually treatable with medication. But many patients are still troubled with pervasive cognitive deficits including poor memory, impaired information processing and loss of concentration.

Working memory

The researchers found that areas most improved by exercising were patients’ ability to understand social situations, their attention span and their ‘working memory’ – how much information they can hold in mind at one time.

There was also evidence among the studies that programmes which used greater amounts of exercise, and those which were most successful in improving fitness, had the greatest effects on cognitive functioning.

Lead study author Joe Firth said: ‘These findings present the first large-scale evidence supporting the use of physical exercise to treat the neurocognitive deficits associated with schizophrenia.

‘Using exercise from the earliest stages of the illness could reduce the likelihood of long term disability and facilitate full, functional recovery for patients.’

Firth J et al (2016) Aerobic exercise improves cognitive functioning in people with schizophrenia: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Schizophrenia Bulletin, doi: 10.1093/schbul/sbw115

This article is for subscribers only

Jobs