Exercise good for schizophrenics’ brains

Updated: Feb 02, 2010, 00:00 AM IST

Washington: A new study has found that exercise may increase volume in hippocampus of the brain of schizophrenic patients.

The study has appeared in the February issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Schizophrenia is associated with a reduced volume in the brain’s hippocampus, which helps regulate emotion and memory.

The authors write: "In contrast to other illnesses that may display psychotic features, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia is often characterized by incomplete recovery of psychotic symptoms and persistent disability.

"These clinical features of illness may relate to an impairment of neural plasticity or mechanisms of reorganizing brain function in response to a challenge."

Frank-Gerald Pajonk of The Saarland University Hospital, Homburg, and Dr. K. Fontheim``s Hospital for Mental Health, Liebenburg, Germany, and colleagues examined changes in hippocampal volume in response to an exercise program in both male patients with schizophrenia and men who had similar demographics and physical characteristics but did not have the condition.

Eight participants with schizophrenia and eight controls were randomly assigned to exercise (supervised cycling) three times a week for 30 minutes, while an additional eight patients with schizophrenia played tabletop football for the same period of time.

All participants underwent fitness testing, magnetic resonance imaging of the hippocampus, neuropsychological testing and other clinical measures before and after participating in the program for 12 weeks.

It was seen that following exercise training, hippocampal volume increased 12 percent in patients with schizophrenia and 16 percent in healthy controls.

The authors said: "To provide a context, the magnitude of these changes in volume was similar to that observed for other subcortical structures when patients were switched from typical to atypical antipsychotic drug therapy."

It was also seen that patients with schizophrenia who played tabletop football instead of exercising experienced a 1 percent decrease in hippocampal volume.

Aerobic fitness also increased among those who exercised, and improvement in test scores for short-term memory was linked to increases in hippocampal volume among patients and healthy controls.

The authors concluded: "Further clinical studies are needed to determine if an incremental improvement in the disability related to schizophrenia could be obtained by incorporating exercise into treatment planning and lifestyle choice for individuals with the illness."