Date Published: 23 March 2015
Aerobic exercise found to improve cognitive functioning in people with schizophrenia
In recent research conducted at Columbia University (New York City, USA) people diagnosed with schizophrenia experienced improvements in cognitive functioning when they participated in an aerobic exercise training programme.
The proof-of-concept, single-blind, randomized clinical trial involved 33 patients who received either standard psychiatric treatment alone or a 12-week, 3 times per week, aerobic exercise together with standard psychiatric treatment. The exercise training program involved use of active-play video games (Xbox 360 Kinect) in addition to standard exercise equipment.
The type of cognitive deficits associated with schizophrenia can include difficulties with tasks involving concentration / attention, recall / memory, and planning.
It doesn't seem surprising that the participants in this trial who received aerobic exercise training improved their aerobic fitness by 18.0% compared with a 0.5% decline in aerobic fitness in the cases of the patients who received only standard psychiatric treatment. However, in addition to the improved level of physical fitness, the schizophrenia patients who received the aerobic exercise training also benefitted from an overall improvement in cognitive function of 15.1%. At the same time the schizophrenia patients who received only standard psychiatric treatment showed a 2.0% decline in cognitive function.
The implication of this outcome was summarized by Dr David Kimhy, Director of the Experimental Psychopathology Lab at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and lead author of the research paper (ref. below). He said:
" Our results indicate that poor aerobic fitness represents a modifiable risk factor for cognitive dysfunction in people with schizophrenia, for which aerobic exercise training offers a safe, non-stigmatizing, and side-effect-free intervention."
and went on to explain that...
" If replicated, our findings may lead to the integration of aerobic exercise into standard psychiatric treatment for people with schizophrenia and other severe mental health problems. Thus, in addition to its well-documented cardiovascular, weight-management, and other physical health benefits, aerobic exercise training offers the potential to ameliorate cognitive difficulties in individuals with schizophrenia."
It is worth emphasizing Dr. Kimhy's remarks about the benefits of aerobic exercise training including its "non-stigmatizing, and side-effect-free", both being important and highly advantageous attributes.
More details from Dr. David Kimhy
The full research paper is cited below. It is includes further information about this work including graphical representations of the data collected and explanations in terms of the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein in the brain that increases with physical activity and has been identified "as a potential mechanism underlying such cognitive improvements".
See also more news about schizophrenia.
Source: Columbia University, New York City, USA