Schizophrenia is a chronic mental disorder that affects a person's ability to think, feel, and behave clearly. It can be a debilitating condition that affects a person's daily functioning. However, recent research has shown that cognitive training and aerobic exercise may improve cognitive function and everyday functioning in people with schizophrenia.
In a clinical trial, researchers examined the impact of a 6-month program of cognitive training and exercise (CT&E) compared to cognitive training alone (CT) in 47 first-episode schizophrenia outpatients. All participants were provided with the same Posit Science computerized CT, 4 hours per week, using BrainHQ and SocialVille programs. The CT&E group also participated in total body circuit training exercises to enhance aerobic conditioning. Clinic and home-based exercise were combined for a target of 150 minutes per week.
The results showed that the CT&E group had a significant improvement in cognitive function compared to the CT group. People who did both cognitive training and exercise (CT&E) had a bigger improvement in their overall cognitive function than those who only did cognitive training (CT) alone. This improvement was more significant in the first 3 months of the 6-month program. Work/school functioning also improved substantially more with CT&E than with CT alone by 6 months.
Interestingly, the amount of exercise completed was strongly associated with the degree of cognitive and work/school functioning improvement. Aerobic exercise is hypothesized to increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and thereby synaptic plasticity, leading to increased learning capacity. The cognitive gain by 3 months predicted the amount of work/school functioning improvement at 6 months.