Benefits of Exercise for Co-Occurring Eating Disorders and Schizophrenia

Woman running with Compulsive Exercise and Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are complex psychiatric illnesses that involve a combination of biological, psychosocial and environmental factors. Because the underlying factors of eating disorders are similar to those that influence other mental illnesses, it is not uncommon for co-occurring disorders to occur.

Co-occurring disorders involve two or more mental illnesses that develop alongside each other.

Among those who suffer with eating disorders, other psychiatric illnesses are more likely to co-occur compared to those who do not have eating disorders [1]. Schizophrenia is another type of psychiatric illness that can develop alongside an eating disorder.

Understanding the Connection Between Schizophrenia and Eating Disorders

Eating disorders in individuals with schizophrenia has been poorly studied, but disturbances in eating behaviors is a common experience among those with schizophrenia, often to the point where criteria is met for a full spectrum eating disorder, such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder [2].

For many individuals who struggle with schizophrenia, the related eating disorder symptoms may be difficult to identify and treat, as the symptoms related to schizophrenia often serve as a “smokescreen”. Nonetheless, if an eating disorder is identified alongside schizophrenia, the need for comprehensive and specialized treatment is needed for holistic healing.

Therapeutic Treatments For Co-Occurring Disorders

The complexity of symptoms experienced with co-occurring schizophrenia and eating disorders can truly be overwhelming for any one person to manage. The integration of various therapeutic techniques in treatment is an essential and effective part of the recovery process. This may include a range of therapies, from pharmacologic management to cognitive behavioral therapy to therapeutic exercise management.

Recent research has validated the therapeutic benefits of aerobic exercise for individuals struggling with schizophrenia. In a study that combined the data from 10 independent clinical trials that investigated individuals with schizophrenia, researchers found that about 12 weeks of regular aerobic exercise in the form of walking and biking, found improvement in overall brain function compared to those on just medication alone [3]. Areas that were most improved upon in patients with schizophrenia included attention span, working memory, and cognitive function.

With cognitive function being significantly impaired with both schizophrenia and an eating disorder, there may significant added benefit with safely incorporating aerobic exercise as a therapeutic part of healing and recovery.

Safely Including Exercise in Treatment

Woman running a treadmill.As with all treatment protocols, be sure to work closely with your healthcare professionals to determine if it is appropriate and safe to regularly include aerobic exercise as part of your treatment for schizophrenia and eating disorders. Many individuals with eating disorders may experience side effects, including malnourishment, bone loss, and muscle deterioration, and in these cases, aerobic exercise may not necessarily be appropriate.

It is also important to note that aerobic exercise should be one part of a comprehensive treatment plan for co-occurring eating disorders and schizophrenia, which works in conjunction with other aspects of treatment.

Community Discussion – Share Your Thoughts Here!

How has exercise benefitted your recovery from co-occurring eating disorders and schizophrenia?

About the author:Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC – Founder & Director

Jacquelyn EkernJacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC founded Eating Disorder Hope in 2005, driven by a profound desire to help those struggling with anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder. This passion resulted from her battle with, and recovery from, an eating disorder. As president, Jacquelyn manages Ekern Enterprises, Inc. and the Eating Disorder Hope website. In addition, she is a fully licensed therapist with a closed private counseling practice specializing in the treatment of eating disorders.

Jacquelyn has a Bachelor of Science in Human Services degree from The University of Phoenix and a Masters degree in Counseling/Psychology, from Capella University. She has extensive experience in the eating disorder field including advanced education in psychology, participation and contributions to additional eating disorder groups, symposiums, and professional associations. She is a member of the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), Academy of Eating Disorders (AED), the Eating Disorders Coalition (EDC) and the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (iaedp).

Jacquelyn enjoys art, working out, walking her golden retriever “Cowgirl”, reading, painting and time with family.
Although Eating Disorder Hope was founded by Jacquelyn Ekern, this organization would not be possible without support from our generous sponsors.


[1]: Mangweth, B., Hudson, J. I., Pope, H. G. Jr., Hausmagn, A., DeCol, C., Laird, N. M., …Tsuang, M.T. (2003). Family study of the aggregation of eating disorders and mood disorders.Psychological Medicine, 33, 1319-1323.
[2]: Son Young Yum, MD, et al. Schizophrenia, Comorbidity In Psychiatry, Schizophrenia Psychotic Features, Addiction, Alcohol Abuse June 1 2006
[3]: Science Daily, “Exercise Can Tackle Symptoms of Schizophrenia”,

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on February 4, 2017
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