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A Supervised Exercise Intervention for Youth at Risk for Psychosis: An Open-Label Pilot Study

Derek J. Dean, MA; Angela D. Bryan, PhD; Raeana Newberry, BA; Tina Gupta, BA; Emily Carol, MA; and Vijay A. Mittal, PhD

Published: November 21, 2017

Article Abstract

Objective: A rapidly accumulating body of research suggests that exercise can improve symptoms and well-being in patients suffering from psychosis. Exercise may also promote neurogenesis in the hippocampus, a structure that plays an important role in the pathophysiology of psychosis. To date, there has not been an intervention focused on exercise prior to the onset of psychosis, a critical time for prevention of more serious illness.

Methods: In this pilot study, 12 young adults at ultrahigh risk (UHR) for psychosis were enrolled in a 12-week open-label exercise intervention. Participants were randomly assigned to exercise 2 or 3 times each week and exercised between 65% and 85% of maximum oxygen capacity (Vo2max) for 30 minutes each session under the supervision of an exercise physiologist. Positive and negative symptoms, social and role functioning, performance on neurocognitive tests, cardiovascular fitness, and hippocampal structure and functional connectivity were evaluated before and after the trial.

Results: A total of 9 participants completed the exercise intervention. Participants showed improved positive and negative symptoms and social and role functioning; improvement in multiple areas of cognition; and increased functional connectivity between the left hippocampus and occipital cortex after 12 weeks of exercise.

Conclusions: The results of this study suggest that exercise interventions are feasible in a UHR sample and may promote improvement in clinical, social, and cognitive domains as well as changes to brain function in regions impacted by the development of psychosis. These findings set the stage for an ongoing phase 2 randomized controlled trial.

Trial Registration: identifier: NCT02155699

Volume: 78

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