Exercise and Nutrition Needs for People with Schizophrenia

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Exercise Early

If you’re a caregiver for someone with schizophrenia, you do all you can to help your loved one manage the illness. Perhaps you regularly talk with doctors and therapists, spend time driving to appointments, and carefully watch for symptoms. These steps are vital to the well-being of your loved one. But don’t forget to focus on his or her overall health, too.

It’s important to help your loved one live a healthy lifestyle. Why? People with schizophrenia have a much shorter life expectancy than others. But that’s not mainly due to schizophrenia itself. The majority of people with schizophrenia develop life-threatening health concerns, like hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease, that can be prevented.

People who have severe medical illnesses are known to have a reduced quality of life. Therefore, when you help your loved one make positive lifestyle changes, you’re helping him or her enjoy a longer, healthier life.

Understand Obesity Concerns

People with schizophrenia are more than three times as likely to be obese than those without the illness, according to a published study in Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry. Lack of exercise, a diet high in fat, and side effects of medication play major roles. Taking steps to lose weight is important, because extra pounds increase the risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and a host of other health problems, even including cancer.

Although it may be overwhelming to think about tackling exercise and nutrition needs with your loved one, take heart. Even small lifestyle changes can help. In fact, losing just 5% of overall body weight can lead to big health benefits.

Check Medication

Many medications for schizophrenia, especially atypical antipsychotic medications, are known to cause significant weight gain. Those shown to potentially pack on the most pounds include clozapine and olanzapine. However, there are other atypical antipsychotics that have minimal effect on weight. These include aripiprazole, lurasidone, and ziprasidone, among others.

Medication for schizophrenia is highly important and doses should never be independently adjusted or stopped to avoid weight gain or other side effects. However, if your loved one gained significant weight after beginning treatment for schizophrenia, talk with his or her doctor. Many times antipsychotic medication can be switched to one with fewer side effects. Even if switching antipsychotics isn’t an option, healthy lifestyle habits may make a difference, and medicines may be considered that can help reduce weight.

Promote Good Nutrition

Eating well helps us maintain a healthy weight or lose excess weight, increases our energy, and lowers the risk for certain diseases. The same is true for people with schizophrenia. However, in general, people with schizophrenia tend to make poor food choices. Although the reasons aren’t exactly clear, experts think part of the problem may stem from less access to healthy fare. People with schizophrenia may have a lower income or be served less-than-healthy meals in mental facilities. 

To help your loved one eat a better diet, first make sure that healthy foods are available to him or her. Then try to encourage a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains. Avoid processed foods and foods high in salt and sugar. And replace saturated and trans fats with “good” monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are found in olive oil, fish, walnuts, and other foods. To learn more about planning healthy, well-balanced meals, visit choosemyplate.gov.

Boost Physical Activity

To lose excess body weight and stay healthy, research shows that in addition to making diet changes, it’s important to exercise. In fact, exercise, even without weight loss, improves blood sugar regulation. Moreover, physical activity, like brisk walking, not only helps shed unhealthy pounds, but also increases energy, brightens mood, reduces stress, decreases risk for disease, and improves sleep and thinking abilities.

If your loved one resists physical activity, try to find out why and address those obstacles. For example, some people with schizophrenia avoid health clubs or gyms because they feel uncomfortable in public settings. If so, take a walk together outside and away from the crowds, or try an exercise DVD. Others need help planning exercise because they don’t have structure to their day. If so, sit down and help schedule it on the calendar. For advice on fitting more exercise into an average day, visit choosemyplate.gov.

Join In

Being a caregiver isn’t an easy job—and your well-being matters, too. Joining in the effort to make healthy lifestyle changes will not only encourage your loved one, but improve your health and energy level as well.

Most things are easier when you have company. Whenever possible, model the behavior you want your loved one to adopt. Take time to exercise. Shop for healthier foods and eat more balanced meals. Remember, taking care of yourself will make you a better caregiver.

Key Takeaways

  • People with schizophrenia are more than three times as likely to be obese than those without the illness.

  • Many schizophrenia medications are known to cause significant weight gain.

  • Make sure people with schizophrenia have access to nutritional food, and help them schedule time for exercise.
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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Aug 7, 2017

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Medical References

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