A new study says that aerobic exercise can “significantly” help people cope with schizophrenia.
Combining data from 10 independent clinical trials with a total of 385 schizophrenia patients, Joseph Firth, a researcher at the University of Manchester in England, found that around 12 weeks of aerobic exercise training can significantly improve patients’ brain functioning.
Schizophrenia’s acute phase is typified by hallucinations and delusions, which are usually treatable with medication. However, most patients still must deal with cognitive deficits, such as poor memory, impaired information processing, and loss of concentration, the researcher noted.
“Cognitive deficits are one aspect of schizophrenia which is particularly problematic,” Firth said. “They hinder recovery and impact negatively upon people’s ability to function in work and social situations. Furthermore, current medications for schizophrenia do not treat the cognitive deficits of the disorder.
“We are searching for new ways to treat these aspects of the illness, and now research is increasingly suggesting that physical exercise can provide a solution,” he continued.
The research showed that patients treated with aerobic exercise programs, such as walking on treadmills and riding exercise bikes, in combination with their medication, will improve their overall brain functioning more than those treated with medications alone.
The areas that showed the most improvement with exercising were the patients’ ability to understand social situations, their attention spans, and their working memory, or how much information they can hold in their minds at one time.
There was also evidence among the studies that programs that used greater amounts of exercise, and those that were most successful for improving fitness, had the greatest effects on cognitive functioning, according to the researchers.
“These findings present the first large-scale evidence supporting the use of physical exercise to treat the neurocognitive deficits associated with schizophrenia,” Firth said.
“Using exercise from the earliest stages of the illness could reduce the likelihood of long-term disability, and facilitate full, functional recovery for patients.”
The study by Firth, Dr. Brendon Stubbs and Professor Alison Yung, is published in Schizophrenia Bulletin.
Source: University of Manchester