Background: The typically poor outcomes of schizophrenia could be improved through interventions that reduce cardiometabolic risk, negative symptoms and cognitive deficits; aspects of the illness which often go untreated. The present review and meta-analysis aimed to establish the effectiveness of exercise for improving both physical and mental health outcomes in schizophrenia patients.
Method: We conducted a systematic literature search to identify all studies that examined the physical or mental effects of exercise interventions in non-affective psychotic disorders. Of 1581 references, 20 eligible studies were identified. Data on study design, sample characteristics, outcomes and feasibility were extracted from all studies and systematically reviewed. Meta-analyses were also conducted on the physical and mental health outcomes of randomized controlled trials.
Results: Exercise interventions had no significant effect on body mass index, but can improve physical fitness and other cardiometabolic risk factors. Psychiatric symptoms were significantly reduced by interventions using around 90 min of moderate-to-vigorous exercise per week (standardized mean difference: 0.72, 95% confidence interval -1.14 to -0.29). This amount of exercise was also reported to significantly improve functioning, co-morbid disorders and neurocognition.
Conclusions: Interventions that implement a sufficient dose of exercise, in supervised or group settings, can be feasible and effective interventions for schizophrenia.