Exercise

Managing bipolar disorder usually requires a comprehensive treatment plan that involves medication and psychotherapy. A successful treatment plan should also include lifestyle management in addition to drugs and therapy.

This means emphasizing behaviors and activities that can improve overall health and avoiding or minimizing unhealthy behaviors. 

Exercise is ranked high on the list of healthy lifestyle choices, along with adequate sleep, and a balanced diet.

How Does It Fit In

It has been widely established that regular exercise is good for everybody, but it is an important component in treating bipolar disorder for several reasons:

  • Weight gain is a common problem for people with bipolar disorder. It is a symptom of bipolar depression, but also a side effect of many of the medications that treat the condition, including lithium, antipsychotics, and anticonvulsants. Exercise can help a bipolar person maintain a healthy weight.
  • Exercise can help improve a person's appearance, which in turn improves his or her self-esteem and mood, both of which suffer as part of bipolar disorder.
  • Exercise has also been shown to increase the body's naturally produced mood elevators like endorphins. It can help calm anxiety and help lift someone out of depression.

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How It Works

Physical activity can strengthen muscles, increase endurance and cardiovascular health. It also makes you look and feel better.

But there are some things to keep in mind:

  • If you do not exercise regularly or are planning to significantly change your exercise routine, it is a good idea to consult your doctor before starting an exercise program in order to minimize the risk of injury.
  • It is a good idea to start at an easy level and increase difficulty gradually to avoid injury. Be patient.
  • Do your workouts as regularly as possible.
  • Exercise does not have to be complicated. Working out does not mean finding money in your budget to spend on a gym membership or a personal trainer, though those are certainly options. It can be as simple as putting one foot in front of the other more often - just adding extra walking time to your schedule, either taking a stroll around the block or by skipping the elevator in favor of the stairs.
  • It is often recommended to find activities you enjoy rather than trying to force yourself to do activities you don't because you are more likely to stick with it. If you like biking, do that. If it's swimming, hit the pool. Martial arts and yoga are a couple more of the endless fitness options.

Who Can Take It

Anyone can find an exercise that suits them and can benefit them. And everyone should. However, if you haven’t exercised in a while, you may want to consult your doctor to ensure you find the right kind of exercise that suits you.

Side Effects

Exercise should be done properly and in moderation. It is important not to overdo it, especially at first, because injuries can result.

Some things for people with bipolar disorder in particular to keep in mind include:

  • People taking lithium should keep themselves well hydrated. Loss of fluids can increase the chances of lithium toxicity, meaning that concentrations of the drug in the blood can reach poisonous levels.
  • It is also a good idea to keep workouts and sleep separate by at least a few hours, because doing exercise too close to bedtime can make it hard to sleep.

Availability

It really can be as easy as walking out the back door and around the block. There are numerous ways to exercise, from hauling dirt around the garden to hitting the machines at a gym.

Highlights

Regular physical activity is beneficial for anyone, but can be of particular help for managing the negative effects of bipolar disorder such as weight gain.

Exercise should be started at an easy level, and difficulty should be added gradually. Taking on too much too soon can lead to injury. Consult your doctor before embarking on a new or enhanced exercise program.

It doesn’t have to be complicated. Find something physical you enjoy doing and do it. Also, if there is a choice for a more active or a less active way of doing something, pick the former. Bike to the corner store instead of driving or use the stairs rather than the elevator.

What The Expert Says

“Exercise is important. Period. Physical health fosters mental health and vice versa. Even a simple walk allows the mind to quiet down while the body exercises,” said Dr, Soroya Bacchus, a psychiatrist practicing in Los Angeles.