Columbia University Medical Center

Aerobic Exercise Improves Cognitive Functioning In Individuals with Schizophrenia

Aerobic Exercise Improves Cognitive Functioning In Individuals with Schizophrenia

New York, NY (March 23, 2015) – Aerobic exercise training program improved cognitive functioning in people with schizophrenia, in a study published online in Schizophrenia Bulletin on March 24. Cognitive deficits such as difficulties in attention, memory, and planning have been identified as major predictors of daily dysfunction and disability in people with schizophrenia, and available medications and cognitive remediation treatments offer only limited benefits.

The proof-of-concept study, conducted at Columbia University Medical Center/New York State Psychiatric Institute, randomized 33 patients to receive standard psychiatric treatment or attend a 12-week aerobic exercise (AE) training program using active-play video games (Xbox 360 Kinect) and traditional exercise equipment, along with standard psychiatric treatment. The patients who received AE improved their aerobic fitness by 18.0 percent in contrast to a -0.5 percent decline in the patients who received standard psychiatric treatment. Cognitive function improved by 15.1 percent in the AE training group in contrast to a -2.0 percent decline in the standard treatment group.

Lead author David Kimhy, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and director of the Experimental Psychopathology Lab at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, said “Our results indicate that poor aerobic fitness represents a modifiable risk factor for cognitive dysfunction in people with schizophrenia, for which aerobic exercise training offers a safe, non-stigmatizing, and side-effect-free intervention.”

The study team also identified brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein in the brain that increases with physical activity, “as a potential mechanism underlying such cognitive improvements.”

Dr. Kimhy added, “If replicated, our findings may lead to the integration of aerobic exercise into standard psychiatric treatment for people with schizophrenia and other severe mental health problems. Thus, in addition to its well-documented cardiovascular, weight-management, and other physical health benefits, aerobic exercise training offers the potential to ameliorate cognitive difficulties in individuals with schizophrenia.”

The title of the paper is “The Impact of Aerobic Exercise on Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor and Neurocognition in Individuals with Schizophrenia: A Single-Blind, Randomized Clinical Trial.”

The other contributors are Ms. Julia Vakhrusheva, Dr. Matthew Bartels, Ms. Hilary Armstrong, Dr. Jacob Ballon, Ms. Samira Khan, Ms. Rachel Chang, Ms. Marie Hansen, Ms. Lindsey Ayanruoh, Ms. Amanda Lister, Dr. Eero Castrén, Dr. Edward Smith, and Dr. Richard Sloan.

The study was funded by The National Institute of Mental Health grant 1R21MH096132 (Dr. Kimhy).

Dr. Ballon has received investigator-initiated research funding from Novartis relating to another project. Dr. Castrén is an advisor of Herantis Pharma. The other authors report no financial or other conflicts of interest.

Columbia University Department of Psychiatry and New York State Psychiatric Institute (Columbia Psychiatry/NYSPI)
New York State Psychiatric Institute (founded in 1896) and the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry have been closely affiliated since 1925. Their co-location in a New York State facility on the NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center campus provides the setting for a rich and productive collaborative relationship among scientists and physicians in a variety of disciplines. Columbia Psychiatry/NYSPI are ranked among the best departments and psychiatric research facilities in the nation and have contributed greatly to the understanding of and current treatment for psychiatric disorders.  The Department and Institute are home to distinguished clinicians and researchers noted for their clinical and research advances in the diagnosis and treatment of depression, suicide, schizophrenia, bipolar and anxiety disorders and childhood psychiatric disorders.  Their combined expertise provides state of the art clinical care for patients, and training for the next generation of psychiatrists and psychiatric researchers.

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