The National Alliance on Mental Illness states that there are more than 3.2 million Americans living with schizophrenia. The severe mental disorder affects how a person thinks, feels and behaves. In its acute phase, people with schizophrenia can experience hallucinations and delusions. Memory issues may be present, as well as impairments in concentration and information processing. Research from a 2016 study suggests that exercise may mitigate symptoms.
Published in Schizophrenia Bulletin (2016. doi: 10.1093/schbul/sbw115), the goal of the study, a meta-analysis of relevant controlled trials, was to understand the effects of aerobic exercise on symptoms associated with schizophrenia. The review featured 10 studies and 385 subjects and included both exercise-based interventions and nonexercise controls for comparison.
The data revealed a link between exercise and significantly improved global cognition (compared with no exercise). There were marked improvements in cognitive characteristics like working memory, social cognition and attention as a result of physical activity. Supervised exercise sessions—as opposed to unsupervised sessions—offered the greatest improvement.
“This may be due to increased exercise engagement among participants or better program delivery resulting in more favorable outcomes,” the authors said.
The authors added that exercise duration and intensity likely play an important role in cognitive improvements, but they were not able to quantify these characteristics.
“This meta-analysis provides evidence that exercise can improve cognitive functioning among people with schizophrenia, particularly from interventions using higher dosages of exercise,” the researchers added. “Given the challenges in improving cognition, and the wider health benefits of exercise, a greater focus on providing supervised exercise to people with schizophrenia is needed.”