Exercise and Bipolar Disorder

As we discussed in our Nutrition and Bipolar Disorder post, maintaining a healthy diet and weight are beneficial in helping those with Bipolar Disorder feel well. Eating nutritiously goes hand-in-hand with exercise, and together these can combat the weight-gain issues that many with Bipolar Disorder face.

Exercise is considered to be a crucial part of any healthcare routine. It has numerous benefits for your body, mind, and emotions. Physically, exercise controls weight, strengthens bones and muscles (including heart and lungs), reduces risk/help prevent cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and some cancers, and delivers oxygen and nutrients to tissues and muscles, creating higher energy.

You might be surprised, however, the wonders it does for you mentally and emotionally. Exercise assists in managing stress and can positively impact serotonin levels in your brain, which boosts your mood and leaves you feeling happier, more relaxed and with an overall sense of well-being.  Exercise also promotes better/deeper sleep, and generally increases chances of living longer.

However, for those with Bipolar Disorder, summing up the desire to exercise while in a depressive state may seem difficult or overwhelming. It is hard enough to initiate and stick with an exercise routine without the added challenges posed by managing Bipolar Disorder!

It may seem intimidating, but incorporating exercise into your routine does not necessarily mean joining a gym (and then feeling bad when you don’t go). Instead, try incorporating more physical activity into your daily routines–choose an activity, or several activities and see what you like. If you don’t enjoy it, you probably won’t stick with it, so make it fun. Make time for exercise–it helps to actually put it on your schedule.

Here are several activities to consider, ranging in intensity: Walking, biking, jogging, hiking, swimming, yoga, gardening/yard work, dancing to your favorite upbeat music, or joining a social team such as volleyball, basketball, or finding a partner for tennis. Being a partner or with a group can also help with feelings of isolation, increase social interactions, and may help you with maintaining commitment/accountability to a routine. Remember, anything that gets you moving will help you feel good afterwards!

Try to exercise 30 minutes per day, 3-5 times a week. Once it becomes a part of your daily routine, you can always increase the intensity and frequency, or try new activities once you feel more comfortable pushing yourself.

As always, check with your doctor to discuss beginning or changing an exercise/physical activity routine. A doctor may be able to help you find the right routine, or provide you with information regarding exercise and your medications. (Lithium has been shown to have some adverse interactions with exercise – but appears to be the only commonly prescribed Bipolar Disorder medication that has this interaction.)

Some studies note that intense exercise may trigger manic symptoms. That claim remains somewhat unfounded, but as always monitor and track your symptoms, and discuss with your doctor.

While individuals managing Bipolar Disorder may have some special considerations, exercise or increased physical activity is beneficial to overall health and managing symptoms. And since weight gain is an ongoing concern for many patients being treated for Bipolar Disorder, physical activity can help manage that side effect. The benefits of exercise are vast–physically, mentally, and emotionally, so get moving any way you can and feel well!