A group from the UPV/EHU and the Álava Psychiatric Hospital studied the subjective experiences of people with schizophrenia who completed a physical training program to improve their physical and mental health. The program included only people with this disease because the focus on a single clinical population highlights the special role of physical activity in the treatment and management of the disease.
According to the World Health Organization, schizophrenia is a chronic, complex neuropsychiatric disorder that affects approximately 24 million people worldwide. In addition to stigmatization and discrimination in society, this disease has a significant impact on the quality of life of the affected people and their families.
A study carried out by Sara Maldonado-Martin and Mikel Tous-Espelosin from the GIKAFIT group (Gizartea, Kirola eta Ariketa Fisikoa Ikerkuntza Taldea) of the UPV/EHU, in collaboration with the Álava Psychiatric Hospital and the University of Deusto, revealed the aim was to investigate the effect of an adjuvant out-of-hospital physical training program as an adjunct to usual treatment in people with schizophrenia. The aim was to observe whether general healthcare is improving by addressing the lack of focus on homogeneous patient groups and giving people with schizophrenia a voice to understand their subjective experiences. Tous-Espelosin explains that “physical exercise has been observed to have very positive health effects in various vulnerable populations,” adding that “not only does it improve the physical part, but it can also improve other aspects of the disease.” .
“Schizophrenia has three types of symptoms: positive, negative and cognitive,” explains Tous-Espelosin. “Positive ones can be delusions or hallucinations and can usually be treated with medication. For negative symptoms (sadness, lack of energy, apathy), there are no medications that can treat them, but thanks to physical exercise, this type of symptomatology could be improved. Physical exercise is like a modulator of the brain, causing the expression of certain proteins to increase and improve the plasticity of the brain itself, i.e.
A concurrent training program
Participants diagnosed with schizophrenia received an intensive, out-of-hospital, concurrent physical exercise program (training that combined an aerobic component and a strength and resistance circuit) three times a week for five months. Qualitative data were collected through individual semi-structured interviews, organized, and analyzed through thematic analysis. “We interviewed them for about 35 minutes both before and after the physical activity. In it, we asked them about their experiences with physical activity in the past and asked whether or not they continue to do physical activity because of the illness. When they started the program, we asked them about their feelings and, after completing the program, what benefits they felt,” explains the UPV/EHU researcher.
The results of this research support the strategic use of physical exercise as part of the treatment and maintenance of holistic health in people with schizophrenia. “Physical exercise can be a supportive treatment,” adds the researcher, “it can support the pharmacological treatment itself.” The results show that patients are convinced that the physical training program outside the hospital is a highly accepted and beneficial addition could be their usual treatment and show that physical exercise helped them to resolve their problems. “This study is a real characterization of what happens and feels in people with schizophrenia when they engage in proper physical activity. It would be ideal if psychiatric hospitals had the figure of a physical educator with whom they could carry out a correctly designed and supervised physical exercise program. That is why we would like to thank the Álava Psychiatric Clinic for trusting our figure,” he concludes.