Adhering to moderate levels of aerobic exercise like brisk walking, swimming, running, or cycling for just two to three times a week for at least 150 minutes can reduce symptoms of depression and schizophrenia, according to new guidelines by the European Psychiatric Association (EPA).
These aerobic exercises done in moderate intensity can also improve cognition, cardiovascular fitness as well as cardiorespiratory health in individuals with schizophrenia spectrum disorders.
According to the researchers from the EPA, a regime of structured exercise should be added to standard medication and psychotherapy.
"Our comprehensive review provides clear evidence that physical activity has a central role in reducing the burden of mental health symptoms in people with depression and schizophrenia. Our guidelines provide direction for future clinical practice," said lead researcher, Brendon Stubbs, from King's College London.
The study, published in the journal European Psychiatry, stated that in addition to experiencing poor physical health, full recovery among people with mental illness is often poor, even for those receiving appropriate medications.
They also experience drastic physical health inequalities, which lead to premature death -- 20 years earlier than the general population.
"Signs and symptoms of premature cardiovascular diseases can be identified early in the disease course of mental disorders, when patients are in their thirties to forties," said Kai G. Kahl, Professor at the Hannover Medical School in Germany.
For the study, the team conducted a meta-review of physical activity interventions and their impact on health outcomes for people with severe mental illness, including schizophrenia-spectrum disorders, major depressive disorder (MDD) and bipolar disorder.
New add-on treatments for mental illness that can support full recovery and address poor physical health are urgently needed, Kahl noted.