Bipolar and Fitness



I have come a long way from being a prime contestant for the ‘Laziest Person On The Planet’ Contest during my teens. Oh yeah, I was that tardy towards attempting any exercise which could be done away with. Well, the only real exercise I had managed to get in was cycling to my School and back which meant a round trip of around eight kms. That’s it.

It must have been my early twenties that I began walking as a dedicated activity. My formal induction into some sort of an exercise regimen was thrust upon me when I was past thirty. Being an acute Asthma patient, my Doc had bluntly told me, if you want to survive, medicines alone won’t help you. You will necessarily have to lead a disciplined and active lifestyle. (My severe Asthma attacks had ensured that  I had already been in Intensive care twice by then- each time it was a brush with death).

I, therefore, had little choice but to fall in line. Reluctantly at first, I began the prescribed stuff: breathing exercises to increase lung elasticity, Yoga and a daily 45 minute brisk walk. With my crazy work schedule at that time coupled with my poor health this was a challenge. However, once I began to feel the benefits, the surge in energy levels and weakening of Asthma, I became a fitness devotee for life.

Within a few years I had tamed my decades old disabling Asthma, which seemed improbable earlier. On having practically recovered from it, I persisted with all my exercises.
This stood me in good stead when Bipolar dealt a lethal blow.

As destiny would have it, among my clients had been the renowned Art of Living and Siddha Centers of Meditation~ I was actually being paid to advance myself spiritually and learn relaxation techniques that help fall into a deep meditative state. I have been practicing meditation thereon almost daily for eighteen years now.

I had learnt just a few asanas of Yoga earlier. In order to boost my energy and mood, I learnt quite a few more. Last year, my wife and I hired a Yoga trainer to teach us Yoga. We therefore boosted our fitness regimen by swapping certain exercises with the newly taught ones.

How does all this benefit a Bipolar? It certainly does, both directly and indirectly. The premise that Yoga, Meditation and regular exercise help Bipolar (and other Mental illnesses too) now have scientific research to back it. There is exciting research that establishes how meditation can actually alter the mind and the brain (neuoroplasticity). It is also well known that exercise is a natural serotonin booster. A rub off is that it boosts your self esteem and is a fantastic stress buster!

Regular exercise is mandatory for overall wellness too. Statistics show Bipolars have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Exercise wards off obesity and hypertension.

As for me, Yoga, Exercise and Meditation have now become an inseparable part of me. If I skip this all important routine for one day, I miss it. Of course, I have benefited hugely. Bipolar and the meds for it cause lethargy and daytime drowsiness. My fitness regimen has increased my alertness and boosted energy levels.

Another myth is that fitness is all about exercise. Fitness is about the mind as well as body. Recently, I had the privilege of being invited to a talk by the iconic Shri Talwalkar, a pioneer of organised gyms and fitness centres throughout India. A body builder and fitness fanatic, one would find it hard to believe he is 80!

My takeaways from his memorable sharing. “Fitness is only 10% about exercise, a proper diet is 90% of it. Real fitness is not about aesthetics- a truly fit person should have all the energy needed at all times to pursue her/his passion. Fitness of the body refers to strength, stamina and flexibility”

So what is my diet like? No I am not fanatical about every calorie that goes in. To me it is about eating sensibly, a diet that energises me and maintains my weight. As an Asthmatic I always had enough restrictions on my food and beverage intake right from childhood- nothing cold, too sour, no deep fried food and so on. Having won my battle against asthma, I never gave up my old diet. Excessive of carbs and sugar intake is detrimental for bipolars- I have modified my diet as per a customised plan prepared by a nutritionist and adhere to it.

I can claim with pride that over the past decade I must have gained by about one kg- despite the odds being that those on bipolar meds have this tendency to pile on weight easily.

Life was too precious to be wasted away as a couch potato. I decided to change all that and am glad I did.

I am brimming with positive energy!