From Walking to Swimming: How To Cope With Bipolar Disorder Using Physical Fitness

Bipolar disorder affects nearly six million adults in the U.S., and many studies have been done in an effort to try and pinpoint where it begins and why. It’s not so easy to understand, however, and it is even harder to study in young people because the symptoms sometimes mimic natural emotional changes that come with growing up.

For those who are living with bipolar disorder, medication is one option for minimizing the symptoms. These can include manic episodes and feelings of elation as well as drawn-out low periods of depression, and the sharp shift between those two extremes can be frightening, exhausting, and tiresome. Often, a mixture of medication and therapy work wonders for sufferers, but in some cases, alternative therapy can also be of help. One such method is exercise.

It’s long been understood that getting at least 30 minutes of exercise daily can help keep you healthy in more ways than one; physical activity releases chemicals in the brain that help you feel happy, and exercise is often prescribed as a stress reliever.

One study showed that there is a correlation between bipolar disorder and a sedentary lifestyle, which could be because the desire to get out and get moving is greatly hindered by feelings of depression. However, there are ways around this if an individual feels that exercise is benefitting their ability to cope with everyday life. Here are a few of the best ways to get in a workout with bipolar disorder.

Dog walking

Dogs are excellent companions, especially for those living with mood disorders; studies have shown that spending time with a dog can lower stress and anxiety, but aside from that, they are fun, gentle friends who give as much love as they take. Dog ownership isn’t a requirement for getting in exercise, however; provides a place for pet owners and caregivers to meet up and arrange dog-walking (or even dog-sitting) jobs, meaning that an individual living with bipolar disorder could benefit from a dog’s company, get in daily exercise, and make money at the same time.


Exercise is best when it’s fun. It’s not always easy to find motivation when it’s time to workout, so making it easier by choosing an activity you love to do will benefit you in the long run. Swimming is relaxing, can be done with friends, and is a well-known stress buster.

“We know, for instance, that vigorous exercise like swimming can significantly decrease both anxiety and depression. Currently, there’s a ton of research looking at the various mechanisms by which it works,” says sports psychologist Aimee C. Kimball.


You don’t have to get in a full aerobic workout every day; sometimes a simple walk is the best way to help relieve the symptoms of a manic or depressive episode. Put on your headphones, head to the nearest park, and enjoy the time to yourself. Focus on your breathing or the music and go at your own pace.

There is still much to be discovered about bipolar disorder. What we do know is that regular exercise can make a positive impact: not only does it release mood-lifting endorphins, but it can also help burn off the stress that often accompanies bipolar disorder (as well as life in general). Make the most of your physical workouts by recruiting a four-legged companion, enjoying a group activity like swimming, or keeping it simple with a relaxing walk through your neighborhood. You just might discover that your exercise regimen is both the most effective way to keep your mind and body balanced, and your favorite part of the day!

(It’s important to note that exercise regimens shouldn’t be started before consulting your doctor, as some manic episodes might be aggravated by a workout. Photo via Pixabay by MabelAmber )

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