Several studies have found that patients with schizophrenia experience cognitive benefits from exercise.
A study in Psychiatric Research suggests schizophrenia patients who participate in a 12-week aerobic exercise program may continue to experience cognitive benefits months after the program ends.
“These findings encourage the incorporation of [aerobic exercise] in psychosocial treatment regimens [for schizophrenia],” wrote Takeshi Shimada, Ph.D., of the Medical Corporation Seitaikai Mental Support Soyokaze Hospital in Japan and colleagues.
Shimada and colleagues conducted a randomized trial in which patients were recruited from a psychiatric hospital in Nagano, Japan. Forty participants with schizophrenia and other schizoaffective disorders aged 20 to 65 were randomly assigned to one of two groups: one group received treatment as usual, which consisted of meetings with a psychiatrist, medication, case management, and rehabilitation programs over a 12-week period; the other group participated in a 12-week aerobic exercise program in addition to receiving treatment as usual. Participants in the exercise program attended one group class (involving exercise videos) and one individual session (involving treadmill or stationary bike) a week, each lasting an hour.
Shimada and colleagues used the Brief Assessment of Cognition in Schizophrenia (BACS) to evaluate the participants’ verbal memory, working memory, motor speed, verbal fluency, attention, and executive function. The researchers also measured participants’ intrinsic motivation (defined as sense of purpose, motivation, and curiosity), psychiatric symptoms, social functioning, and functional outcome. Assessments took place at baseline, after the 12-week aerobic exercise intervention, then at six months and a year later.
Immediately after the aerobic exercise intervention, participants showed significant improvements in cognition, intrinsic motivation, psychiatric symptoms, and relationships with others. A year later, compared with the group that received treatment as usual only, those who also participated in aerobic exercise classes “showed significant, sustained improvements in several cognitive domains [including working memory, verbal fluency, attention, and executive function] as assessed by the BACS,” Shimada and colleagues wrote.
The aerobic exercise group also showed improved intrinsic motivation in the one-year follow-up, with a mean score on the Quality of Life Scale of 9.95 versus 6.75 in the treatment as usual group.
“Such sustained improvement in intrinsic motivation might further promote improvement and maintenance of cognition,” the authors wrote. The study, they added, “provides encouragement to the theory that [aerobic exercise] training is a feasible and well accepted intervention.”