Exercise plays an important role in brain plasticity, leading to improvements in cognitive function and delaying the cognitive deterioration of healthy people. These effects can be observed in individuals with schizophrenia through improvements in their performance in cognitive tasks and a decrease in the symptomology of the disease. In this review we examine the current evidence for the roles that exercise and the immune system play in patients with schizophrenia, and specifically analyze the interleukin-6 (IL-6) pathway as a potential mechanism resulting in these positive effects. Inflammation and high levels of IL-6 are associated with both the severity of schizophrenia and the cognitive impairment suffered throughout the disease. Performing regular exercise can modulate IL-6 by lowering its basal levels and by causing lower acute increases in the plasma levels of this cytokine in response to exercise (an anti-inflammatory response to physical exertion). Although there is evidence for the positive effects of physical exercise on schizophrenia, more studies will be required to better understand how variation in different exercise parameters affects both the acute and chronic plasma levels of IL-6.
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