Aerobic Exercise Improves Cognitive Functioning In Individuals with Schizophrenia

March 26, 2015

New York, NY (March 24, 2015) – A study published online in Schizophrenia Bulletin on March 24 showed that an aerobic exercise training program improved cognitive functioning in people with schizophrenia. Cognitive deficits (e.g., difficulties in attention, memory, planning, etc.) have been identified as major predictors of daily dysfunction and disability in people with schizophrenia, with available medications and cognitive remediation treatments offering 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. Following the interventions, patients who received AE improved their aerobic fitness by 18.0% in contrast to a -0.5% decline in the patients who received standard psychiatric treatment. Cognitive function improved by 15.1% in the AE training group in contrast to a -2.0% decline in the standard treatment group.

Lead author David Kimhy, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and the 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.

Media Contact:  Dacia Morris, (646) 774-8724,


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InPsych - March 2015, Press Releases