Can Exercise Help with Schizophrenia Symptoms?

Schizophrenia, a chronic, severe brain disorder affecting approximately 1% of the population in America, is considered one of the most challenging mental diseases, since its symptoms are severe and include hallucinations, sensory alterations, an altered sense of self, and changes in emotion and behavior.
Those with schizophrenia can find it difficult to hold down a job or other major responsibilities because of these symptoms but also because their circadian rhythms can be altered; in other words, many find that they are drowsy during the day, and alert at night.

Health professionals are consistently on the lookout for complementary ways to soothe symptoms of the disorder, so that patients can lead as full a life as possible. In this post, we highlight the role that exercise can play in the treatment of schizophrenia.What are Traditional Treatments for Schizophrenia?

Preferred treatments for schizophrenia include medication and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). While there is no cure, schizophrenia is considered a highly treatable disorder, and consistency is vital when it comes to medication. Only 30% of those who take their medication religiously experience a relapse within one year of starting treatment, compared to 80% of those who neglect medication.
The consequences of failing to receive treatment are severe, with suicide being the number one cause of death in people with this disorder.  Psychosis and severe depression can also arise if medication is not taken.

Coordinated Specialty Care

Coordinated Specialty Care is a treatment model which integrates a number of approaches, including CBT, family involvement, and support for education and employment. Its aim is to increase a patient’s likelihood of leading a normal life, which is useful considering that only 13% of people with schizophrenia are working.

The Role of Exercise

In a recent review published in Schizophrenia Bulletin, scientists at the University of Manchester compiled data from 10 independent clinic trials, finding that 12 weeks of aerobics training can significantly improve brain functioning in persons with schizophrenia. The research focused on those who had taken part in aerobic workouts on treadmills and exercise bikes, in addition to taking medication. Some of the areas which most benefited included patients’ working memory and ability to comprehend social situations. Evidence also showed that the more exercise was performed/the greater the fitness level achieved, the more marked were the benefits on cognitive functioning.

The researchers noted that therapies which improved cognitive functioning were vital, because this issue was one of the biggest hindrances to patients being able to function in a work or social situation. Moreover, medications do not work on cognitive deficits. They stated that their search to treat this aspect of the illness has led them to conclude that physical exercise could be at least one solution. Lead researcher, Joe Firth noted, “Using exercise from the earliest stages of the illness could reduce the likelihood of long-term disability, and facilitate full, functional recovery for patients.”

Thus far, exercise is one complementary therapy that may be promising in helping reduce symptoms of schizophrenia. In general, important lifestyle choices currently recommended by health professionals include sticking to a routine, reducing stress through mindfulness based activities, and avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and drugs.

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