Exercise and Schizophrenia

There have been lots of suspicions about the effect of exercise on schizophrenia.  Some people suggest that schizophrenics should actually exercise less frequently than those without the illness.  Why this is, I’m not sure.  We all know that exercise is a main factor in overall health, and it’s no surprise that the actual research concerning schizophrenia found the same!

The Cochrane Library’s meta-analysis of the data suggests that exercise remains as equally important to the schizophrenic’s physical and psychological health, just as it does in anybody else.  Nothing fundamentally changes between someone with or without schizophrenia, and to suggest so is quite offensive!  The guidance medical professionals offer on exercise and diet are just as applicable to us as it is to anyone else.

Exercise Guidelines

As always, every individual should be engaging in at least thirty minutes of cardiovascular exercise daily.  This is meant as a moderate level of activity, not full-force sprinting, but a brisk walk or jog.  This is the minimal suggestion and with time you should be increasing the duration or intensity of cardiovascular work-outs.

Good ways to obtain the maximum benefit from this type of exercise include high intensity interval training and yoga.  High intensity interval training, or HIIT, involves cycling through sprinting, for instance, and walking.  You switch between the two to allow the muscles to re-oxygenate and the heart rate and pulse to lessen a bit before hitting it hard again.  Yoga, on the other hand, combines very calming and purposeful movements in order to strengthen and stretch the muscles while increasing the heart rate and maximizing your lung capacity.  These are great places to start if you need some suggestions.

Exercise Can Reduce Symptom Intensity

Rigorous exercise releases endorphins that have a calming effect over the mind and body.  They can help increase concentration, reduce depression, and decrease anxiety symptoms.  Inactivity of the body and mind can increase symptoms related to schizophrenia.  This means a secondary benefit to exercising is an avoidance of these extra symptoms that can arise due to lethargy and being sedentary

Exercise can also increase an individual’s positive self-image and self-esteem.  This can have a drastic effect on the tendency to socially isolate oneself.  Social withdrawal can intensify feelings of persecution and paranoia, but thankfully exercise can help combat all of this by making you more proud and confident to go out and show your best!  Group aerobics can help you feel connected to others and give you something in common all while you engage in healthy exercise.  Another side effect of sitting about and not exercising is weight gain.  We all know that exercise can put a halt to this and reverse it.  Exercise has so many benefits to anyone, including people suffering with schizophrenia.

Another important side effect to increasing the regularity of exercise for schizophrenics is the increase in motivation.  Feeling better about oneself has a ripple effect across your entire life.  It can motivate you to correct and maintain a healthy diet.  It can inspire you to work out even more regularly and intensely.  And it can make you want to take care of yourself and your home in terms of hygiene.  What more can you ask!

The Schizophrenic’s Life Expectancy

The most important benefit of exercising if you are dealing with schizophrenia is its effect on your life expectancy.  Sadly, schizophrenics on average have a life expectancy that is 25 years less than compared to similar individuals who don’t have schizophrenia.  This has nothing to do with schizophrenia itself.  It has to do with the other illnesses and complications that arise from leading a sedentary style of life.  This increases the risk of all kinds of diseases and illnesses associated with being overweight.

During this increased lifetime, the person will function way more productively, effectively, and happily.  There is research that shows that exercise actually increases the size of the hippocampus in schizophrenics.  This brain volume increase is related to an improved short-term memory and the speedier production of new neurons throughout the brain.  The reduced size of the hippocampus is responsible for much of the disorientation and spatial problems experienced.  It also plays a large role in memory issues.  How easy of a fix is it to simply gain all of the other benefits of exercise and then also gain this one as well?  There is no reason we all shouldn’t be performing regular exercise.

Conclusion

It is very basic.  Exercise is a great therapy for anyone, regardless of age, gender, or illness.  Every living being on this planet, besides plants maybe, should be engaging in some form of regular, moderate exercise.  The benefits are widespread, ranging from social engagement to a reduction of melancholy and angst.  Maintaining a proper weight and a well-functioning cardiovascular system can extend the life expectancy of anyone drastically, while reducing the risk of developing other diseases and illnesses.  Do not wait.  Start an exercise routine today!