Cognitive Fitness: A New Approach

  • This is the second SharePost in a two-part series and will take a controversial stance. It is not so incendiary an idea as it is a novel idea-a surprising one that though unproven in the psychiatric field has recently held sway in the mainstream.

    My take is that modest, consistent exercise and daily physical activity could improve the symptoms of schizophrenia and possibly lessen them to such a degree that they become manageable.

    No study has ever been undertaken among schizophrenia patients to assess the link between fitness and mental health, yet it must be examined if only because incorporating a wellness routine into our lives is the single most cost-effective way to insure optimal health.

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    The August 17, 2009 cover of TIME magazine boldly touts: The Myth About Exercise: Of course it's good for you but it won't make you lose weight. Why it's what you eat that really counts.

    In reality, vigorous exercise increases our appetite so we're tempted to chow down after running on the treadmill or consume a 300-calorie Starbuck's drink after a spinning session.

    It's a double-edge scenario: people who exercise madly for hours come home and plop on the couch for two hours. Yet others who simply take the stairs instead of the elevator and get off the bus two stops earlier to walk home might still have a reserve of energy to cook dinner instead of ordering take-out.

    Indeed, "It's not clear that vigorous exercise like running carries more benefits than moderately strenuous activity like walking while carrying groceries."


    So what is the true lasting benefit of a fitness routine?


    The TIME article asserts, "In addition to enhancing heart health and helping prevent disease, exercise improves your mental health and cognitive ability." It referred to the June 2009 journal Neurology that published a study that found older people who exercise at least once a week are 30 percent more likely to maintain cognitive function than those who exercise less.

    Newsweek was on to this tip in a March 26, 2007 feature that suggested, "Aerobic activity has been found to increase the size of specific areas of the brain, notably the temporal and prefrontal cortices, which control functions involved in memory, multi-tasking, planning and paying attention."

    Evidence also showed physical activity slows cognitive decline related to aging and helps stave off dementia.

    Could exercise actually make us smarter? Could it reverse or halt the cognitive impairment that affects a great number of people diagnosed with schizophrenia? What if, as soon as we were given our pills, we were given a prescription for fitness and issued our literal walking papers?

    My point is: it's time for a research study that examines the effect of exercise on the symptoms of schizophrenia. If exercise has all these benefits for the general public, how could it not have improved effects for us?

    I know one thing: I'll be taking the stairs instead of the elevator at work. Though the seven-block walk home from Gristede's is a long trek with two heavy eco-bags full of groceries, I'm newly committed to doing so once a week. Every baby step counts when it comes to fitness.

  • So you might want to expand your perception of what constitutes a good workout. Be kind and gentle towards yourself if you're not able to spend five days a week at the gym for two hours at a stretch. Always do your best. Know that your best will change from day-to-day.

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    The bottom line? Getting off the couch is good for your mental health. An apple a day does keep the doctor away.



Published On: November 01, 2009