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Bipolar Depression and Trying to Exercise

Bipolar depression can make it feel impossible to exercise. But I'm trying to exercise in spite of my bipolar depression. Here's why.I’m stuck in a bipolar depression and yet, I’m trying to exercise. I’ve never been successful at this – ever.  Now and then I have been on exercise programs, but I’ve hated every one and none of them have stuck. Not to mention the fact that getting my depressed butt out of the house to do anything is almost impossible. I have no energy and everything hurts all the time. Bipolar depression makes exercising almost impossible – but I’m hoping the truth is that it’s just “almost” impossible.

Benefits of Exercise and Bipolar Depression

Everyone knows that exercise is good for us. It has many benefits and we all know it. But so many of us – with mental illness of not – refuse to do it.

According to Jim Phelps MD, a noted doctor in the field of bipolar disorder, benefits of exercise for everyone include the following:

  • Exercise is good for your heart
  • Exercise can reduce your risk of cancers like colon cancer and breast cancer
  • Weight control

Additionally, for people with bipolar depression or other mental illnesses, the benefits of exercise include:

  • Likely, the reduction of the chance of metabolic syndrome which does affect mood and anxiety (not to mention your overall health)
  • Positive effects on sleep/insomnia
  • Possibly exerting the same antidepressant effect as the common antidepressant sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Even a re-growing of parts of the brain that shrink during depression

Now, most of the evidence in mood is for people with moderate major depression but, in my opinion, there’s no reason to think that most of this wouldn’t also be applicable to bipolar depression as well. Dr. Phelps has recommended exercise for his patients and says this:

. . . I’m the evidence-based treatment psychiatrist. I should be able to give up when you produce the evidence that in your case, sure enough, after a month of getting at least the 15 minutes described above [a walk], at least 5 days a week — there’s been no improvement in your mood or energy. I’d say that was a fair trial, just like we’d give an antidepressant.

In other words, exercise is worth the same amount of effort you would put into a drug trial. This mostly sucks, as all drug trials do, but he’s suggesting it is worth the time and effort.

But Bipolar Depression Makes Exercise Nearly Impossible Anyway

Even knowing all these benefits, exercise still sucks and I don’t want to do it. I never have. My bipolar depression is a vortex and it sucks me, well, to my much couch. And this is not uncommon for people with bipolar depression (or major depression, for that matter).

Initiating an Exercise Program with Bipolar Depression

That said, after some unfavorable bloodwork, my doctor has talked me into a basic exercise program. It’s an aqua fit program along with walking. Aqua fit, admittedly, I’ve never tried, so maybe I’ll hate it less than other types of exercise, but don’t hold your breath.

In addition, I’ve purchased a Fitbit which, so far, I have found motivational in terms of getting me to walk more.

I can’t start my aqua fit routine just yet as I just got a tattoo and I have to wait for it to heal. But I am gearing up to start it soon. (I bought a swim cap because, trust me, you don’t put hair like mine in a pool.)

In my opinion, nothing good will result from this. The only thing I’ve ever felt exercise do is make me feel exhausted.

That bias stated, I’m still willing to try. The lack of hope I have is typical of any treatment I try so I’m not all that put off by it. And I admit that Dr. Phelps is right, exercise deserves the same kind of trial as any treatment and when I’ve done it in the past, I may not have done it in a reasonable way.

So here I go. I’m going to try to beat bipolar depression (at least a little) with exercise. Wish me luck. I suspect I’ll need it.


Phelps, Jim MD, Exercise and Mood: Not the Usual Rap. December, 2014.

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar Burble, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

1 thought on “Bipolar Depression and Trying to Exercise”

  1. I just bought a second hand treadmill for mostly the same reasons. I, theoretically, know that the exercise will benefit me and living with the bi-polar symptoms, but the actuality still eludes me. I love to just walk, mostly outdoors…unless other people are around. This means I don’t do much walking outdoors, as I live in town, and I just don’t want to even think about walking, and the possibility of having people even see me after a work day shuts me down that much more. My body hurts all of the time, but I feel I have a decent chance at give this walking a try, with a scheduled calendar set up to make sure I am accountable, and I don’t have to deal with people while I walk. I can just read my book and let my feet just move me until my preset time (I’ll start at 15 minutes) are done. Who knows? Maybe this WILL actually help.

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