Weight gain has been identified as being responsible for increased morbidity and mortality rates of schizophrenia patients. For the management of weight gain, exercise is one of the most acknowledged interventions. At the same time, exercise and sports have been recognized for their positive impact on psychiatric symptoms of schizophrenia. However, the neurobiological basis for this remains poorly understood. We aimed to examine the effect of sports participation on weight gain, psychiatric symptoms and brain activation during sports observation in schizophrenia patients. Thirteen schizophrenia patients who participated in a 3-month program, including sports participation and 10 control schizophrenia patients were studied. In both groups, body mass index (BMI), Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS), and brain activation during observation of sports-related actions measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging were accessed before and after a 3-month interval. BMI and general psychopathology scale of PANSS were significantly reduced in the program group but not in the control group after a 3-month interval. Compared with baseline, activation of the body-selective extrastriate body area (EBA) in the posterior temporal-occipital cortex during observation of sports-related actions was increased in the program group. In this group, increase in EBA activation was associated with improvement in the general psychopathology scale of PANSS. Sports participation had a positive effect not only on weight gain but also on psychiatric symptoms in schizophrenia. EBA might mediate these beneficial effects of sports participation. Our findings merit further investigation of neurobiological mechanisms underlying the therapeutic effect of sports for schizophrenia.
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