Three months of aerobic exercise significantly increased the volume of the hippocampus in patients with chronic schizophrenia, researchers said.
The increase was accompanied by “modest” increases in short-term memory and markers of neuron production, according to Frank-Gerald Pajonk, MD, of Dr K. Fontheim’s Hospital for Mental Health in Liebenburg, Germany, and colleagues.
But it’s too early to say whether incorporating aerobic exercise into treatment programs might reduce the disability associated with schizophrenia, the researchers said in the February Archives of General Psychiatry.
Among schizophrenics, the hippocampus, which plays important roles in memory and spatial navigation, is known to be reduced in volume, Pajonk and colleagues noted.
Unlike other forms of psychosis, they added in the journal, schizophrenia is characterized by persistent disability, perhaps because the production of new neurons is impaired.
As well, they noted, in healthy humans it has been shown that exercise stimulates the production of new neurons.
For those reasons, they speculated that aerobic exercise might increase the volume of the hippocampus in people with chronic schizophrenia, perhaps leading to clinical benefits.