Activity Boosts Mood in Adults With Bipolar Disorder

December 19, 2018

Increasing physical activity appears to boost mood and energy in adults—especially so in those with bipolar I disorder, according to a study published online in JAMA Psychiatry.

The study focused on a community sample of 242 men and women, including 25 people with bipolar I disorder, 29 with bipolar II disorder, 91 with major depressive disorder, and 97 control subjects with no history of a mood disorder. Researchers used activity trackers to measure physical activity and electronic diaries to assess perceived energy levels and mood over 2 weeks. Participants rated their mood and energy levels 4 times a day (morning, lunchtime, dinnertime, and before bed) using seven-point scales that spanned “very happy” to “very sad” and “very tired” to “very energetic.”

On average, a higher activity level at one time point (such as morning) was linked with improved mood and increased perceived energy at the subsequent time point (such as lunchtime). Similarly, an increased perceived energy level at one time point was associated with increased activity at the next.

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Physical activity had an inverse association with sleep duration. More activity was generally followed by less sleep at night, while more sleep tended to lead to less activity the next day.

Among participants with bipolar I disorder, changes in internal psychological states were strongly influenced by sleep and physical activity, the study found. Researchers pointed out, however, that many current interventions for mood, sleep, and activity tend to focus on one particular system rather than consider the collective impact of the systems. They’d like to apply their findings to interventions to offset depressive episodes in patients with bipolar disorder.

“These findings suggest that interventions focused on motor activity and energy may have greater efficacy than current approaches that target depressed mood,” researchers wrote, adding that “both active and passive tracking of multiple regulatory systems are important in designing therapeutic targets.”

—Jolynn Tumolo


Merikangas KR, Swendsen J, Hickie IB, et al. Real-time mobile monitoring of the dynamic associations among motor activity, energy, mood, and sleep in adults with bipolar disorder. JAMA Psychiatry. 2018 December 12;[Epub ahead of print].

Increased motor activity linked to improved mood [press release]. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; December 12, 2018.