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Exercise and Bipolar

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We each have our own flavor of bipolar. I am bipolar 2 with a touch of attention deficit disorder (ADD) to make my life really exciting. Adding exercise to my delicate balance of mental health management can make my sometimes bumpy life very smooth or it can make for a very wild ride. Following are my observations of when and what types of exercise work best for me.

Manic or depressed?

Bipolar 2, also known as manic depression, is characterized by mixed moods of mania and depression, hence the term “manic depression”. During my manic states I talk rapidly, change the topic of conversation very quickly and can’t focus. Then there is the endless energy. I move around a lot, too much to be considered normal for a 40 something year old woman, and let’s not forget the insomnia. Mania leaves me turned “on” for days, unable to come down and relax or get anything accomplished.

When I am not manic, I am likely depressed. In this state, my mood is low and I generally feel sad and hopeless and I cling to my bed because I am too tired to do anything else. I withdraw from my family life, work and friends. Without my extensive cocktail of medications, my depressive states would be debilitating.

What type of exercise and when?

How does exercise fit into all of this? It depends. As a former marathoner, running would be my natural choice for exercise, but when I’m manic, running supercharges my mania. A new interest in a running program sometimes signals an upcoming manic episode. The “high” I get from running only fuels more energy which in turn makes me want to run more to burn more energy. I get stuck in this cycle for days without sleep until I drag myself to my psychiatrist’s office for help in pulling me out of this cycle.

Exercise when I am depressed can have mixed results. When depressed, the most strenuous exercise I can muster with even my best medicinal cocktail is yoga. It relaxes me and helps me release my anxieties and quiets my paranoia. But there is a downside. Yoga sometimes works too well and I fall asleep in yoga class, at work, and in my car (parked of course). We’re not talking a light sleep where I’m still somewhat aware of my surroundings. I fall into a deep snoring sleep that embarrasses my friends and then I struggle to wake up. It’s always an extreme with us bipolars isn’t it?

Weight training has been a godsend for me in managing my bipolar. Training two, but preferably three times a week, evens out my mood. I continue to take my meds as prescribed, but my extreme ups and down level out.

My weight training routine is manageable. I do three sets of four exercises two to three times per week based on a program I picked up from a weight training book. I don’t over exert myself, but I do break into a real sweat. The weight training also helps with my focus and my concentration. I’m able to think through my thoughts before making impulsive decisions.

When I’m not able to weight train, I notice the difference within a week. There are no immediate swings in my mood, but I feel the steadiness that the weight lifting gives me ebbing away. Then I make it a point to get back into my routine.

Will exercise work for you and your bipolar? I’m not sure, but you’ll never know until you get in tune with your body and your bipolar and give it a try. You might be pleasantly pleased. Talk with your doctor before you start an exercise program.


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