Schizophrenia is a complex mental disorder and although the cause a still relatively unknown, it is thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Schizophrenia is thought to affect approximately 1% of the population and is usually diagnosed during adolescence or young adulthood.
Symptoms of schizophrenia vary person to person affecting them not only mentally but physically and socially. These symptoms are generally categorized into positive, negative, and cognitive symptoms:
- Positive symptoms- symptoms that add to the usual everyday experience such as hallucinations, delusions and thought, and movement disorders
- Negative symptoms- symptoms that take away from the usual everyday experience such as the “flat affect” (facial expressions and voice both lack emotion), lack of pleasure in everyday life and struggles to begin or sustain planned activities
- Cognitive symptoms- poor executive function, trouble focusing or paying attention, problems with working memory.
Exercise for Schizophrenia- why and how?
Exercise has been shown to reduce positive and negative symptoms as well as improve physical and mental wellbeing. Studies have also shown that incorporating exercise in the treatment of schizophrenia can aid in improving quality of life, general cognition, and global functioning. Exercise does not only address the symptoms directly related to Schizophrenia, but also helps to reduce the risk of comorbidities. Those with Schizophrenia are at increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes due to decreased physical activity, altered community access, and side effects caused by common psychiatric medications.
Research has seen benefits from 90 minutes or more per week of moderate to vigorous activity, though working up to the guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity, plus resistance training on at least 2 days of the week will achieve greater benefits. Training should include resistance training, aerobic activity, and activities that challenge cognition. This could look like a walk outside, interval training, or full body strength training incorporating bodyweight or appropriate resistance using dumbbells, resistance bands, and other equipment. The most important component of the exercise program is that it should be enjoyable and sustainable. Not only this but studies showed that those with Schizophrenia who exercised with supervision from an appropriate health professional saw greater results than those who exercised individually.
Exercise for those with Schizophrenia is best guided by an Accredited Exercise Physiologist to appropriately consider symptoms, comorbidities, medications, and most importantly, your goals.