Recent research data points to the beneficial role of physical exercise in mental health. Long-term physical activity may promote neurogenesis and angiogenesis in people with mental illnesses improving their cognitive functions and overall functionality. In many cases, it is strongly recommended to include physical exercise in the therapeutic planning for people with mental illnesses, including schizophrenia. The purpose of this review is to study current research data on the effect of physical exercise on the symptomatology of the first-episode psychosis and schizophrenia as well as to search for any physical exercise programs suitable for the mentally ill. International literature as well as Greek online publications were searched. The search language was English and the search terms were: "schizophrenia", "first episode psychosis", "physical exercise". A study of the literature suggests that physical exercise offers multiple benefits to people with severe mental illness, such as weight control, improved cardiovascular health, preventing metabolic disorders -with the positive implications of the above in relation to receiving antipsychotic treatment- and improving the negative symptoms of schizophrenia, cognitive functioning and global functioning by activating the neuroplasticity of the brain. However, starting and engaging in physical activity programs faces many obstacles for the population under study. It appears that when the physical activity programs offered give participants both pleasure and satisfaction, promote personal choice of physical activity and the opportunity for group interaction during the process, then the likelihood of commitment to them is maximized. The crucial importance of a stable social-supportive environment for the success of intervention programs is mentioned. In addition, there is a need to develop ways of linking mental health services with community physical training centres and incorporating specialized professional coaches into these services. Moreover, this area of research needs further clinical studies to develop more effective training programs that overcome the lack of motivation experienced by people with severe mental illness. Installing treadmills in mental health centres, establishing partnerships with specialized coaches or community training centres and identifying individuals who may benefit from physical exercise programs are some of the first steps addressing the matter of functional recovery from first-episode psychosis and schizophrenia.

KEYWORDS: Schizophrenia, first episode psychosis, physical exercise

Kostas Makris, Konstantinos Kollias


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