Aerobic exercise interventions in people with schizophrenia have been demonstrated to improve clinical outcomes, but findings regarding the underlying neural mechanisms are limited and mainly focus on the hippocampal formation. Therefore, we conducted a global exploratory analysis of structural and functional neural adaptations after exercise and explored their clinical implications.
In this randomized controlled trial, structural and functional MRI data were available for 91 patients with schizophrenia who performed either aerobic exercise on a bicycle ergometer or underwent a flexibility, strengthening, and balance training as control group. We analyzed clinical and neuroimaging data before and after 6 months of regular exercise. Bayesian linear mixed models and Bayesian logistic regressions were calculated to evaluate effects of exercise on multiple neural outcomes and their potential clinical relevance.
Our results indicated that aerobic exercise in people with schizophrenia led to structural and functional adaptations mainly within the default-mode network, the cortico-striato-pallido-thalamo-cortical loop, and the cerebello-thalamo-cortical pathway. We further observed that volume increases in the right posterior cingulate gyrus as a central node of the default-mode network were linked to improvements in disorder severity.
These exploratory findings suggest a positive impact of aerobic exercise on 3 cerebral networks that are involved in the pathophysiology of schizophrenia.
The underlying study of this manuscript was registered in the International Clinical Trials Database, ClinicalTrials.gov (NCT number: NCT03466112, https://classic.clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03466112?term=NCT03466112&draw=2&rank=1) and in the German Clinical Trials Register (DRKS-ID: DRKS00009804).