Let’s have some fun today. Come with me deep into the human brain and have a look at what exercise can do for those suffering from schizophrenia. We’ve already explored how it may be beneficial for those with OCD(obsessive compulsive disorder), but I think it would be more interesting to see what exercise can do for those with a more “serious” mental condition.
Here is a list of the common symptoms of schizophrenia:
1) Characteristic symptoms: Two or more of the following, each present for much of the time during a one-month period (or less, if symptoms remitted with treatment).
Disorganized speech, which is a manifestation of formal thought disorder
Grossly disorganized behavior (e.g. dressing inappropriately, crying frequently) or catatonic behavior
Negative symptoms: Blunted affect (lack or decline in emotional response), alogia (lack or decline in speech), or avolition (lack or decline in motivation)
If the delusions are judged to be bizarre, or hallucinations consist of hearing one voice participating in a running commentary of the patient’s actions or of hearing two or more voices conversing with each other, only that symptom is required above. The speech disorganization criterion is only met if it is severe enough to substantially impair communication.
2) Social or occupational dysfunction: For a significant portion of the time since the onset of the disturbance, one or more major areas of functioning such as work, interpersonal relations, or self-care, are markedly below the level achieved prior to the onset.
3) Significant duration: Continuous signs of the disturbance persist for at least six months. This six-month period must include at least one month of symptoms (or less, if symptoms remitted with treatment).
Based on some of these symptoms, it looks like it may be difficult to motivate some people with schizophrenia to adopt a regular exercise regimen. There is a vast spectrum of severity of symptoms of this condition, with evidence that schizophrenia is correlated with some brain abnormalities(though this is not used to diagnose it).
According to the Department of Psychiatry, The Saarland University Hospital, Homburg, Germany:
Hippocampal volume is lower than expected in patients with schizophrenia; however, whether this represents a fixed deficit is uncertain. Exercise is a stimulus to hippocampal plasticity.
The results and conclusion of their research:
Following exercise training, relative hippocampal volume increased significantly in patients (12%) and healthy subjects (16%), with no change in the nonexercise group of patients (-1%). Changes in hippocampal volume in the exercise group were correlated with improvements in aerobic fitness measured by change in maximum oxygen consumption (r = 0.71; P = .003). In the schizophrenia exercise group (but not the controls), change in hippocampal volume was associated with a 35% increase in the N-acetylaspartate to creatine ratio in the hippocampus. Finally, improvement in test scores for short-term memory in the combined exercise and nonexercise schizophrenia group was correlated with change in hippocampal volume (r = 0.51; P < .05).
These results indicate that in both healthy subjects and patients with schizophrenia hippocampal volume is plastic in response to aerobic exercise.
While this study looked at the brain plasticity of schizophrenics, it didn’t monitor any improvements in living with their condition. Luckily, other researchers have explored if exercise can improve the lives of schizophrenics.
After examining many studies in the scientific literature, the Schizophrenia Bulletin reports that:
Although studies included in this review are small and used various measures of physical and mental health, results indicated that regular exercise programs are possible in this population and that they can have healthful effects on both the physical and mental health and well being of individuals with schizophrenia. Larger randomized studies are required before any definitive conclusions can be drawn.
Although it can’t “cure” schizophrenia, it looks like exercise should be included in the treatment of schizophrenia and other mental conditions whenever possible. I don’t think there is anything that provides nearly as many benefits to health as exercise. Healthy body, healthy mind.