'It's a double edged sword': a qualitative analysis of the experiences of exercise amongst people with Bipolar Disorder

J Affect Disord. 2012 Feb;136(3):634-42. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2011.10.017. Epub 2011 Nov 17.


Background: Little is known about the therapeutic or iatrogenic effects of exercise in individuals with Bipolar Disorder, despite its potential to benefit physical and mental health. Consequently the aim of the current study was to gather data on experiences of the relationship between exercise and Bipolar Disorder from people with personal experience of the condition. In particular we sought to determine the aspects of this relationship that are pertinent to Bipolar Disorder.

Methods: Twenty five individuals with a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder participated in a semi-structured interview concerning their views on the relationship between exercise and Bipolar Disorder. The data were subjected to qualitative analysis using an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis approach.

Results: Both a descriptive content analysis and a population-specific thematic analysis were conducted. The latter revealed three themes, all present in the majority of participants, which reflected key aspects of the relationship between Bipolar Disorder and exercise: regulating exercise for mood regulation, exercise as a double-edged sword, and bringing structure to chaos.

Limitations: Information on past and current treatment regimes was not collected, and additional lifestyle factors, such as diet and alcohol use, were not investigated. Interviews were conducted by telephone.

Conclusions: The data reveal a number of aspects of the relationship between exercise and Bipolar Disorder that require further investigation and that should be taken into account by clinicians or researchers designing exercise-based interventions for individuals with Bipolar Disorder.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect
  • Aged
  • Bipolar Disorder / psychology*
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Young Adult