Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that can cause low, depressed moods and high, manic moods. While most people experience mild mood swings from time to time, for people with bipolar disorder, these mood swings can be extreme and unpredictable.
Bipolar disorder is usually treated with medication and therapy. However, studies show that for some people, adding exercise to their treatment plan can provide additional benefits. Read on to learn more about the effects of exercise on bipolar disorder.
Exercise and Mood Challenges of Bipolar Disorder
For most people, exercise can have a positive effect on their mood. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, known as the brain’s “feel good” chemicals. Over time, higher levels of endorphins can make you feel better. This is why exercise is often recommended for people with depression. Exercise can also help you fight stress.
Because of these benefits, it’s easy to understand that exercise can help people with bipolar disorder. A 2015 review of studies found that this may be true—but not always.
For example, one study in the review found that for some people with bipolar disorder, exercise helped reduce hypomanic symptoms, which are less severe than manic symptoms. It also helped people sleep better. Also, studies show that certain exercises can provide a calming effect for some people. These exercises include walking, running and swimming.
However, the same study noted that for other people with bipolar disorder, exercise can exacerbate obsessive-compulsive symptoms. This can cause a worsening “spiraling” effect for both manic and hypomanic episodes.
Other studies have found similar results. In a 2013 study, researchers designed a program that included exercise, nutrition, and fitness training for overweight people with bipolar disorder. He noted that the program has resulted in improvements in health and weight. It also reduced participants’ symptoms of depression, and improved their overall functioning. However, they noted that their results also indicated that exercise may worsen manic symptoms.
Exercise and Health Risks of Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder can affect more than just your mood. If you have this condition, you are at higher risk of other health concerns.
Research from 2015 suggests that if you have bipolar disorder, you may be at higher risk for health conditions such as:
- type 2 diabetes
- heart disease
Research has also shown that not only are these health conditions a concern for your overall health, but they can also exacerbate your bipolar disorder symptoms.
One possible reason for these increased health risks is the increase in sedentary behavior (non-physical activity) associated with the condition. A 2017 study of people living with mental illness found that they were more sedentary than people without mental illness. And among people with mental illness, people with bipolar disorder were the most sedentary.
Exercise – unlike sedentary behavior – can reduce your risk of developing or worsening these other health problems associated with bipolar disorder. It can help you manage your weight, and reduce your risk of stroke, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Exercise and Weight Gain From Medications for Bipolar Disorder
As mentioned above, obesity can be a problem for people with bipolar disorder. In some of these cases, the use of certain medications for bipolar disorder may lead to weight gain. Medications can cause metabolic changes that prevent your body from burning calories as efficiently as before. Or the drugs may just increase your appetite.
The following types of medications can potentially cause weight gain.
- antidepressant-antipsychotic combinations
- medications can potentially cause weight gain.
Talk to your doctor if you notice a sudden weight gain after starting any of these medications. If your weight is uncontrollable, you may need to try a different medication. However, never stop taking a medication or change your diet without first talking to your doctor.
In other cases, increasing the amount of exercise can help you lose weight. Exercise burns calories and can build muscle, both of which can help you shed pounds.
Bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition, but it can be managed with proper treatment. Although medication is usually the primary treatment option for bipolar disorder, exercise can also help. In many cases, it can help reduce the symptoms of bipolar disorder as well as reduce the increased risk of certain health conditions associated with bipolar disorder.
For people with bipolar disorder, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America recommends 30 minutes of exercise, 3 to 5 days per week. So talk to your doctor about incorporating exercise into your treatment plan. And be sure to do the following:
- Consult your doctor before starting a new exercise regimen, especially if you are new to exercise.
- Stop any activity that causes pain or worsens symptoms and contact your doctor.
- Be sure to talk to your doctor if you notice that your obsessive-compulsive symptoms increase after starting a new exercise routine.
Work with your doctor to find the right exercise plan for you, keeping in mind that different types of exercise work for different people. Try different options until you find the plan that works best for you.