New evidence is contributing to the recognition that exercise can have mental health benefits for people with serious mental illness, according to a recent scientific review published by the Cochrane Collaboration. The review, “Exercise Therapy for Schizophrenia” by Paul Gorczynsky and Guy Faulkner from the University of Toronto, looked at three recent randomized controlled trials — one of the best research designs for studying therapeutic effects.
The studies focused on exercise as an add-on therapy for persons with schizophrenia. The exercise programs studied involved aerobic and/or strength training 2-5 times a week for 12-16 weeks. Schizophrenia had been diagnosed in all study participants. Two of these studies were set in a hospital; the third was conducted in a community centre. Overall, the three studies showed that exercise provided improvements to mental state and reduced symptoms of, for example, depression and anxiety when compared with standard care. Physical health improvements were measurable in all studies, but not changes in weight. One study added yoga classes as a further treatment to compare with other forms of exercise; the yoga resulted in improved quality-of-life scores.
Because these three studies involved only 12-61 participants apiece, the authors caution about making definitive conclusions. Further studies of this calibre involving a larger number of participants are needed to confirm the evidence reported in this review. The authors also recommend a future research focus on the best ways to help persons with schizophrenia to begin and continue exercising.
The authors’ findings are discussed in an audio podcast from the Cochrane Library. To hear it, visit www.cochrane.org/podcasts.The abstract of “Exercise Therapy for Schizophrenia (Review),” Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2010, Issue 5, is available atwww.thecochranelibrary.com.