By Steven J. Girdler, Jamie E. Confino and Mary E. Woesner
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that is characterized by progressive cognitive impairment in areas of attention, working memory, and executive functioning. Although no clear etiology of schizophrenia has been discovered, many factors have been identified that contribute to the development of the disease, such as neurotransmitter alterations, decreased synaptic plasticity, and diminished hippocampal volume. Historically, antipsychotic medications have targeted biochemical alterations in the brains of patients with schizophrenia but have been ineffective in alleviating cognitive and hippocampal deficits. Other modalities, such as exercise therapy, have been proposed as adjuvant or primary therapy options. Exercise therapy has been shown to improve positive and negative symptoms, quality of life, cognition, and hippocampal plasticity, and to increase hippocampal volume in the brains of patients with schizophrenia. This article will briefly review the clinical signs, symptoms and proposed etiologies of schizophrenia, and describe the current understanding of exercise programs as an effective treatment in patients with the disease.