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Reversing Effects of SchizophreniaThrough Physical and Mental Exercises

First Posted: Apr 07, 2016 09:31 AM EDT
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Schizophrenia, a brain illness affecting how an individual perceives the environment, thinks, and behaves, frequently occurs in late adolescence or early adulthood. But the good news is some cognition and memory deficits that are associated with schizophrenia can now be possibly reversed.

Even though certain medications do little in reversing the illness, one study of the University of California, Los Angeles found out that schizophrenia can be gradually reversed with brain games as well as with aerobic exercise as cited on UCLA Newsroom.

"They tend to be the things that lead people with schizophrenia to go on disability and to become unable to work and to be socially isolated," Keith Nuechterlein said, referring to the crippling symptoms of schizophrenia as cited on Science Daily. "Families go through a stage almost like mourning because their loved one changes so dramatically," he added. Keith Nuechterlein is a professor of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA.

Nuechterlein shares a recent pilot study's findings in the latest issue of Schizophrenia Bulletin. The study involved the assessment and treatment of individuals who suffer from schizophrenia.

During the preliminary stage of the research, Nuechterlein and his team gave treatment to sixteen young adults who had been experiencing their first schizophrenic episode. Nine of these patients were able to participate in a computerized course of 4 hours per week. The course involved neuro-cognitive training for perception and memory skills and social cognitive training for emotional intelligence. The other seven patients were not only given the same computer training, but also were required to perform aerobic exercise.

The second phase of the study had 32 participants. They were given the same computer-aided mental games for 4 hours per week. On top of participating in the brain training, 16 of the participants vigorously exercised. The researchers were astonished by the results. Those patients who performed aerobic exercise, aside from doing the brain games, greatly improved compared to those who did not.

Nuechterlein's team claimed that these great improvements among the aforementioned participants are caused by a brain protein, which is known as 'brain-derived neurotrophic growth factor' (BDNF). Released during aerobic exercise, the BDNF which is the brain's Miracle-Gro naturally stimulates the hippocampus to generate new neurons as well as to increase connections between neurons. These connections are responsible for learning and memory.

"Our hope is to prevent the chronic disability that is so common in schizophrenia from ever occurring, and to return individuals with schizophrenia to regular employment, regular schooling and normal friendship patterns, and to have them resume as much of a full life as possible," Nuechterlein said as cited on Science Daily. "This kind of computer training and exercise -- in combination with antipsychotic medication -- might go a long way toward doing that," he added.

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