Regular exercise as part of your lifestyle should be adopted by anyone striving to regain or get the upper hand on mental health difficulties. Regular exercise, such as walking, biking, running or swimming, can be low impact, easy on the body, and good for the mind.
This page has been produced by the AYCNP with a mental health professional and associate professor of psychology with a PhD in psychology.
Exercise is beneficial towards better mental health. It is positive self help for depression and bipolar disorder.
It can allow for, and in most cases will contribute to, significant progress towards the good physical and mental health for anyone who has been diagnosed with, or feels they have the symptoms of, depression or bipolar disorder.
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Exercise at least 30 minutes a day, four or five times a week.
Exercise, at least 30 minutes to one hour per day, preferably four or more times per week, can be part of an effective bipolar disorder self-help lifestyle plan.
Even if, at the present time, you may feel that you are accomplishing little in your life, walking briskly everyday provides a sense of accomplishment; moving swiftly in the right direction when you walk, provides you with a sense of well being, as if you are walking towards better health and mental health.
Exercise pumps blood through your veins and reduces calories. It can make a positive difference towards greater self-esteem. It provides a sense of well-being, part of which is psychological, and part of which is physical, as neurotransmitters known as endorphins are released in the brain, in response to vigorous activity. Endorphins are chemically related to opiates, naturally occurring in the human body and brain, and are what is responsible, in part, for the “runner’s high”.
The sense of well-being, the relief of stress, calming sensation, and the occurrence of a naturally-activated elevated mood, when exercising on a regular basis, can be do much to balance out mood swings. Exercise expends energy that alleviates mania, and endorphins help temper the negative feelings associated with depression.
Benefits of exercise for mental health, depression, bipolar disorder
balance out mood swings
greater self esteem
physical benefits such as weight loss, strong heart, better circulation
According to researchers at Duke University, walking has proven to be better than antidepressants for mild to moderate depression; it also helps with major depression and bipolar disorder. For bipolar disorder, walking and other forms of exercise can level out the highs and lows of mood seen in this disorder.
In choosing to exercise, you should focus on making the experience pleasant. For example, if you feel self-conscious exercising in the gym or outdoors, begin by exercising at home. You can do a great workout at home, in the privacy of your own living room, if you develop an exercise routine, even without exercise equipment, or with the simplest of equipment.
If you feel the need for extra motivation or company, try exercising with a friend or a family member. Remember to consult with a doctor before beginning a vigorous exercise regimen. Do not choose a method of exercise that puts your health at risk and try to start slowly and work up to a more vigorous pace. Maybe you feel great, but it is easy to overdo it, which can be risky on your body. (If you are taking medications, consider how exercise and associated factors, such as increased heart rate and sweating, might be problematic in conjunction with your medications. Again, consult with your doctor on this.) You may need to take other precautions, such as drinking extra water, when you exercise.
Recommendations regarding exercise
Start slowly and work up to a healthy level of exercise.
Pace yourself so that you do not run out of energy.
Try not to become discouraged.
Note that exercising might be hard at first, and easier as you continue your program.
Do not ignore your physical limitations, or exercise to the point of pain.
“No pain, no gain” is a false statement, exercise can be enjoyable and painless.
Try to work toward a goal of 30 minutes of exercise, three times per week.
Work more physical activity into your daily routine.
Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
Get off the bus before your stop, and walk an extra block.
Park at the far end of the parking lot or at a parking lot farther from your job than usual.
Bike to work instead of taking the bus or train, if that is possible
Everyone knows that exercise is a healthy choice, whether one is diagnosed with bipolar disorder or not. What most people who do not exercise might not realize, however, is that exercise can be fun, habit-forming and it can make you feel great. In terms of bipolar disorder, specifically, exercise is an important avenue toward improving and balancing your mood.
References for Exercise and Mental Health / Depression:
1. Depression (Major Depression) - Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms. (2011, October 1). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/depression-and-exercise/MH00043
2. Exercise and Depression. August 3, 2009. Harvard Mental Health Letter. https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/Exercise-and-Depression-report-excerpt.htm
3. Study: Exercise Has Long-Lasting Effects on Depression. September 22, 2000. Duke Today, (Duke University).
4. How Can Exercise Or Lifestyle Help Bipolar Disorder? April 29, 2008. I ABC News. Interview with Gary Sachs, M.D., Director, Bipolar Clinic and Research Program, Massachusetts General Hospital http://abcnews.go.com/Health/BipolarTreatment/story?id=4360219#.UGcID5jMhOI
Conquering Depression and Anxiety Through Exercise by Keith W. Johnsgård. 2004. Prometheus Books