Exercise - finding the right balance

Living with bipolar disorder I find that I constantly have to find a balance with everything. From my diet to my sleep to the amount of exercise I get on a daily basis, all these things affect my mood and have to be carefully monitored to keep me "in the middle" as my Dad describes it. I'm like my own personal see-saw, and the goal each day is to make sure that it stays as close to horizontal as possible. In a future post I'll get into sleep, but for this one I wanted to focus on exercise because it is at the forefront of my mind lately. I decided that I wanted to lose my squishy mid-section - leftover from having two bouncing babies who grew inside me - and in order to do it I thought I'd train to run a 5k. I've never been very good at running, but it seems like such a great exercise to do when trying to lose a little bit of weight. Also, I felt it would be a good goal to say that I accomplished.

I recruited one of my best friends to join me and I began training using an online training tracking website called Active.com. It is so motivating for me to use the site to track my progress and so far I've done a really good job of keeping up with the program I found online: The Cool Running Couch-to-5-k training program. You basically jog/walk on increasing intervals for six weeks until week seven when you're jogging 2.5 miles at a time. I am really excited about it.

This morning during my jog/walk, I realized that it felt really good and that when my timer beeped that the two minutes were up and it was time to walk, I felt as though I could actually continue jogging. Pretty good sign, right? Hopefully the program will work for me and I'll be able to jog the entire 3.1 miles for the race in October.

What I need to be careful about with exercise is that sometimes it can catapult me into a hypomanic state. I've discussed it with my psychiatrist and we came up with techniques to help me recognize the mood lift and how to make sure it doesn't go too high that it leads to mania. For me I have found that sticking to about 30-45 minutes of aerobic exercise a day, done in the morning or early afternoon, is the best way for me to keep my mood at a good level. When I exercise I feel strong and it also helps me to watch my diet more closely because after putting in all that effort to burn calories, I usually don't want to negate it then.

Yoga and pilates have also been other forms of exercise which I have enjoyed tremendously. When I was first diagnosed and was having trouble sleeping, my parents gave me a yoga DVD for Christmas that year. It's called zYoga and was a tremendous help to me in dealing with my insomnia. The woman in the video is so calming and has such a relaxing voice, it became a wonderful sleep ritual for me. I practiced prenatal pilates when I was pregnant with my daughter last year and I truly believe that the class helped me to recover so quickly and easily from childbirth that I would recommend it to any pregnant woman looking for a prental exercise class. It became more and more challenging as the weeks went on, but I found that I gained only 24 pounds with that pregnancy compared to the 43 I gained with my first pregnancy when I did not exercise.

There have been numerous studies on the benefits of exercise for people struggling with mood disorders. If you can find even ten or fifteen minutes a day to walk outside, I am sure that you will quickly feel the benefits and will continue to notice them if you commit to it.

Given today's busy lifestyles, how do you find time to exercise on a daily or weekly basis? Do you think it helps you to manage your moods?