How Can Exercise Or Lifestyle Help Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar Disorder, Exercise, and a Healthy Lifestyle:  Living with bipolar disorder involves seeing your doctor and therapist and taking your bipolar medication. There’s also a lot you can do to take charge of your health. Here are some suggestions:

Exercise. Studies show that regular exercise can help improve mood whether or not you have bipolar disorder. It can also help you sleep better. Talk to your health care provider about what kind of exercise routine you should try. Start slowly. Take walks around the neighborhood with a friend. Gradually, work up to exercising on most days of the week.

Eat a healthy diet. No, there isn’t a miracle diet for bipolar disorder. But a good meal plan can help you feel better and give you the nutrients you need. Avoid fad diets that force you to cut out food groups. Instead, focus on the basics: Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and grains, and less fat and sugar.

Get a good night’s sleep. Being overtired can trigger mania in those with bipolar disorder. So get into good sleep habits. Go to sleep and get up at the same times every day. Relax before bed by listening to soothing music, reading, or taking a bath. Don’t sit up in bed watching TV. In fact, experts recommend you make your bedroom a calming space, and only use it for sleep and sex.

Relax. Anxiety can trigger mood episodes in many people with bipolar disorder. So make a real effort to relax. Lying on the couch watching TV isn’t enough. Instead, try something more focused, like yoga or meditation.

Reduce stress at home and at work. Ask for help with some of the stressful things in your life. See if your spouse, family, or friends will take care of some of the housework and other hassles. If your job is proving to be too much, think about ways of scaling back some of your responsibilities. Do what you can to simplify your life and make it easier.

Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and drugs. Caffeine is a stimulant, which can keep you up at night and possibly exacerbate your mood. So cut back — or cut out — soda, coffee, and tea. Alcohol and drugs can affect how your medications work. They can also worsen bipolar disorder and possibly trigger a mood episode.

Get onto a schedule. Many people with bipolar disorder find that sticking to a daily schedule can help control their mood. Incorporate all of these things — exercise, healthy meals, relaxation, and sleep — into a pattern that you more or less stick to every day.

Substance Abuse and Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder can be a psychologically painful illness, and many people turn to alcohol or drugs for relief. Up to 60% of people with bipolar disorder also have a substance abuse problem. This self-medication may give you some temporary relief, but it will make your condition worse over time.

If you think that you have a problem with drugs or alcohol, you need to get help now. Don’t assume that treatment for bipolar disorder will make your abuse problem go away. It won’t. As hard as it may be, you need to tackle both problems at the same time.

Talk to your health care provider about your options. Look into local substance abuse groups. Dealing with your abuse problem is crucial to your recovery.

Dr. Gary Sachs and Dr. Rober Findling answer a few common questions about Bipolar Disorder and Lifestyle

Question: How can exercise or lifestyle help bipolar disorder?

Answer: The answer to the problems that bipolar disorder causes are not all medication-related. A healthy lifestyle, adopting an exercise program, not only helps regulate your circadian rhythms but can help you reach your life goals.

It’s extremely important to set out for yourself a purpose in life apart from managing your symptoms — to use lifestyle interventions to help regulate your sleep and wake cycles, your diet, and promote wellness by adopting a healthy lifestyle. These are excellent additions to a medication management program.

Question: Does having bipolar disorder mean that I am crazy?

Answer: People with bipolar disorder can certainly think differently than other people, perhaps have a different emotional responses to things than other people, but crazy is a pejorative term. Bipolar disorder is a medical illness that is due to dysfunction in the central nervous system or the brain.

And to demean it, such a serious condition, such a poignant and heartbreaking condition, with a term like crazy is just not justice.

Question: Are there any natural remedies that will help treat my bipolar disorder such as vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids?

Answer: Natural remedies are of great interest to us. And we should take note of the fact that lithium began at the end of the nineteenth century as a kind of natural remedy for actually many different disorders. It turned out that it really did help manic depressive illness. And looking to natural remedies makes a lot of sense, because we never know when we will get the next great intervention. Unfortunately, many of the natural remedies that are out there are not going to be as effective as the proven treatments, and what we want to do is regard them as more complementary.

Is There a Diet for Bipolar Disorder?

There is no specific bipolar diet. Nevertheless, it is important to make wise dietary choices that will help you maintain a healthy weight and stay well. These choices include:

  • Avoiding the “Western” style diet that’s rich in red meats, saturated fats and trans fats, and simple carbohydrates. This eating style is associated with an increased risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, a heart disease.
  • Eating a balance of protective, nutrient-dense foods. These foods include fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, lean meats, cold water fish, eggs, low-fat dairy, soy products, and nuts and seeds. These foods provide optimal levels of nutrients necessary to maintain good health and prevent disease.
  • Watching caloric intake and exercising regularly to maintain a healthy weight. Some findings show that those with bipolar disorder may have a greater risk for overweight and obesity. Talk to your doctor about ways to avoid  weight gain when taking bipolar medications.

Does Fish Oil Improve Mood With Bipolar Disorder?

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating fatty fish at least two times a week. Good choices include:

  • albacore tuna
  • herring
  • mackerel
  • salmon
  • trout

If you do not enjoy fish, the AHA recommends taking 0.5 to 1.8 grams of fish oil per day as supplements. That way you will get enough eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Fish oil can help keep your heart healthy. But some experts also believe that fish oil is an important bipolar supplement and that it plays a key role in brain function and behavior. These experts report that omega-3 fatty acids are important for those with bipolar disorder, particularly if they have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease or elevated triglycerides.

Because for some patients there may be additional benefit of adding omega-3 fatty acids, folate, or other vitamins or minerals to their treatment, but at this point it would not be helpful to regard those as a substitute for proven treatments. Adding them on makes a lot of sense — see if they work for you — but don’t use them instead of things that have been shown to work.
Article sources:
Gary Sachs, M.D., Director, Bipolar Clinic and Research Program, Massachusetts General Hospital
Robert Findling, M.D., Director, Child and Adolescent Psychology, University Hospitals Case Medical Center

© Copyright 2011  Allison Stuart Kaplan LLC

Be Sociable, Share!

Related posts:

Love this post? Buy us a coffee to celebrate!


  1. Wonderful, wonderful—my close friend suffers from this, and this article just might help her. She embraces pharmaceuticals ( which are necessary) and eats only processed foods heated in the microwave. Allison, thanks for this post.

  2. Great info……thank you.

Speak Your Mind