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Little is known about the effects of physical exercise on sleep-dependent consolidation of procedural memory in individuals with schizophrenia. We conducted a randomized controlled trial (RCT) to assess the effectiveness of physical exercise in improving this cognitive function in schizophrenia.
A three-arm parallel open-labeled RCT took place in a university hospital. Participants were randomized and allocated into either the high-intensity-interval-training group (HIIT), aerobic-endurance exercise group (AE), or psychoeducation group for 12 weeks, with three sessions per week. Seventy-nine individuals with schizophrenia spectrum disorder were contacted and screened for their eligibility. A total of 51 were successfully recruited in the study. The primary outcome was sleep-dependent procedural memory consolidation performance as measured by the finger-tapping motor sequence task (MST). Assessments were conducted during baseline and follow-up on week 12.
The MST performance scored significantly higher in the HIIT (n = 17) compared to the psychoeducation group (n = 18) after the week 12 intervention (p < 0.001). The performance differences between the AE (n = 16) and the psychoeducation (p = 0.057), and between the AE and the HIIT (p = 0.999) were not significant. Yet, both HIIT (p < 0.0001) and AE (p < 0.05) showed significant within-group post-intervention improvement.
Our results show that HIIT and AE were effective at reverting the defective sleep-dependent procedural memory consolidation in individuals with schizophrenia. Moreover, HIIT had a more distinctive effect compared to the control group. These findings suggest that HIIT may be a more effective treatment to improve sleep-dependent memory functions in individuals with schizophrenia than AE alone.
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