Mental health is a topic with a spectrum so wide, and conditions so diverse, that often it is challenging to figure out where to start in managing all the components that contribute to an individual’s condition. Schizophrenia is one of these conditions, so complex and unique to each person that, following receiving the appropriate medication from a Doctor, it is hard to pick a personal start point in long-term management. Exercise is a great spot to start, and here is why. But first, a bit of an overview.
Schizophrenia is a mental health condition that causes those affected to interpret their reality differently to the general population. This, therefore, leads to difficulty thinking clearly, with emotions and behaviour affected accordingly. Worldwide, approximately 1.5% of the population are living with this disorder, with males and females having similar rates of diagnosis. This is a chronic condition that presents with similar symptoms, though varying degrees of severity and effect on daily living. The good news is that there are several mechanisms to manage schizophrenia, including medication, psychotherapy, social training, and of course, exercise.
Symptoms commonly present earlier in the male population than in females, male presentation of signs and symptoms commonly in their early 20s compared to females who’s condition most likely presents in their late 20s or early 30s. The type and severity of symptoms vary between individual cases. Symptoms can either be known as positive or negative and no, this does not mean that one symptom is more favourable than the other. Positive symptoms are ‘additional’ symptoms to one’s daily life, i.e. hallucinations. Negative symptoms ‘take away’ from regular functioning, i.e. loss of motivation.
Examples of the most common presentations include:
In the first step of diagnosis, two of the first three positive symptoms must be experienced for a minimum of one month in order for a possible diagnosis to be assessed, one of which must be either delusions or hallucinations. Through exercise, the goal of an Exercise Physiologist is to reduce the severity of these symptoms, or in some cases, prevent their occurrence.
The direct cause of schizophrenia is unknown, although according to the research, it is likely that genetics, brain structural/ functional abnormalities, stress/trauma, and abnormalities within the brains chemicals may contribute.
Other risk factors that can lead to a future diagnosis include; family history, pregnancy/birth complications such as malnutrition or viruses, or the use of illicit substances during teenage years and early adulthood.
Benefits of Exercise
Exercise has an incredibly wide and vast array of benefits on the physical, social and psychological wellbeing of individuals with Schizophrenia. With the help of an Exercise Physiologist, who understands the complexity of this condition, an appropriate exercise prescription can be designed to ensure those with Schizophrenia can gain the greatest benefits from physical activity. The most common and well publicized benefits of exercise include improved mood, improved body composition, assisting with weight loss and maintenance, increased strength and increased energy. The more specific benefits for those with Schizophrenia are those that assist in the combatting of symptoms, as well as improving an individual’s ability to function daily. These benefits include;
In addition to the physical and mental benefits, exercise enables individuals to improve their social interactions through group settings and interactions with the practitioner, as well as maintain or improve their ability to live independently though an improvement in strength, cardiorespiratory fitness, decision making and reaction time.
Exercise is an incredible tool in the management of Schizophrenia and long-term wellbeing, with benefits reaching far beyond the physical adaptations.