In the StrongWomen newsletter I get e-mailed to me, Miriam E. Nelson, Ph.D, revealed the startling results of a Columbia University study. AC Pereira and colleagues published their findings in the Proceeds of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, online March 20, 2007. She references their article, “An in vivo correlate of exercise-induced neurogenesis in the adult dentate gyrus.” Those words may be intimidating, however, the researchers are on to something!
Scientists there had eleven sedentary adults, aged 21 to 45, do aerobic exercise for one hour, four times per week, in a three-month program. Not only did their fitness level improve dramatically, “The blood volume in the hippocampus region of the brain increased.” According to Nelson, “Blood volume is a marker of neurogenesis—or production of new brain cells.”
Why does this matter? This region of the brain is responsible for executive functions such as problem solving, decision-making, memory and multitasking. She tells us, “Physically active individuals have a reduced risk of cognitive impairment as they age. This study shows us that neurogenesis—the production of new brain cells with exercise—may be responsible for some of these improvements.”
How does this relate to taking psych meds? Cyber-sleuthing on PubMed, I came across two abstracts from medical journal articles. The first is from J. Thome and A.J. Eisch, of the Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, University of Wales Swansea, UK. Their contention: “Neurogenesis is proposed to play a crucial role in psychiatric disorders which exhibit degenerative alterations, neural maldevelopment, and changes in neural plasticity. Especially in schizophrenic and affective psychoses, disruption of adult neurogenesis could thus represent a considerable pathogenetic element.” Atypical antipsychotics “are able to modify neurogenesis significantly.” (Nervenarzt, 2005 January.)
In the second, H. Ujihara, of the Division of Psychiatry, Geisei Hospital, Aki-gun, Kochi, Japan continues in this vein: “The fact that the central nervous tissues can repair even after the maturation and that the replacement of neurons continues during adulthood will alter our understanding about their pathogenesis. The action of several psychiatric medications such as antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotics...is converging at neurogenesis and/or neuroprotection.” (Nippon Yakurigaku Zasshi, 2004 May.)
What can we extrapolate from linking the Columbia University study and psychiatric theory about brain cell regeneration? Exercise is a sure-fire way to keep us not only fit and active, but also mentally healthy. As an adjunct to our psych meds, burning rubber on a treadmill or walking at a brisk pace in our neighborhood or at the local mall, could undoubtedly, undeniably, help us recover.
The medication along won’t do it alone, nor does exercise replace popping the pills. Taken together, they’re a knockout punch in the battle to conquer the schizophrenia. As I write this now, I can prove this point from my own experience. In my 20s, I had a rocky time of it, working in restrictive business environments where I was chained to a desk and had to report to supervisors who could be vicious and unkind. I survived this hell by going to the gym.
When I lived in Brooklyn, I attended For Your Body Only, where I took body-conditioning classes and hit the treadmill. After that, I joined Lucille Roberts where I did step classes and low-impact aerobics, and later on, when I lived at home, I pounded the treads at the YMCA. Now, I go to Harbor Fitness twice a week and do the machines and cardio.
As I look back on the first ten years of my recovery, from the time I was 22 to when I was 32, I see that I had to exercise because it buoyed me. Not only did I lose the 20 pounds I gained when I first went on the Stelazine, I needed an outlet for my stress. I’m not an athlete by any means, and so I did what I could within my limits, and gradually pushed myself to work harder.
Be a detective. Research free or low-cost options if you can’t afford a state-of-the-art hard bodies gym. When I lived on Staten Island, the Cromwell Center offered a yearly $10 membership for people with low incomes, and it included a fitness room. My mother goes to the Jewish Community Center two mornings a week, where free classes are offered to ladies of all faiths. She attends with her NAMI friends.
When it comes to our recovery, we owe it to ourselves to be active. Exercise could halt the deterioration of our brain cells that is thought to occur when the illness strikes. Along with medication, it could improve our cognitive functioning.
Nosh on what I’ve talked about here. Feel free to drop me a comment.
Published On: May 16, 2007