GeekChic Corner: Examining the Relationship Between Mood Recovery and Exercise

GeekChic Corner:

After “Mood Charting” for almost 3 years and observing the positive impact physical activity has had in helping me get through bipolar and depressive episodes, I’m still plagued by nagging questions.

The Questions:

Even with the data/research proving that exercise has a direct correlation with alieviating the severity and duration of depressive symptoms, and we even know how it works, what is the “magic bullet”?

  • How soon (time-based) after depressive symptoms are noted does an individual need to do some sort of physical activity to benefit?
  • What type of activity is most effective?
  • Is more than 1 type of activity (a combination) more effective than a singular?
  • What duration and frequency of activity is needed to significantly decrease symptoms?
  • Does the duration and/or frequency change depending on severity of symptoms? (This seems obvious, but is it?)
  • Does the type of activity need to change when addressing unipolar versus bipolar versus situational depression?
  • Is physical activity more effective than other activities such as meditation, consuming large amounts of sugar/fat/carbs, or a talk therapy session?
  • And the big one – what is the percentage decrease in symptoms on a time-scale? – OR – how long does it take after performing an activity to start feeling better?

Why this has moved to the top of the “obsession bucket list” is this week’s episode, a situational depression resulting from pretty bad news at Wed’s dentist appointment. It was bad news that will have hard core financial impact and instead of facing it and problem solving, I went to bed for almost 2 days. I did not go to the gym, I went to B’s Cupcakes and Chik-Fil-A (a company I’m boycotting!) and watched bad B vampire movies. Once again, instead of facing it, I went the distraction route.

Let’s stop there for a moment – over the 6 months since I started this blog, there have been a number of posts focusing on “falling off the wagon” due to mood issues. And during this period, I have also been exercising or doing some type of physical activity 2-5 times/week. Has all this working out actually helped since I seem to write about struggling so often? I took a look at the mood chart during this period and what I have noticed are these “real life” results:

  • improved consistency of sleep – down to 9-10 hours/night versus 12-14 prior to activity change (March 2011 versus March 2012)
  • decreased number of episodes and shorter duration (same as above)
  • MAJOR – significant decrease in anxiety and irritability – from 25 incidents in March 2011 to 1 !!!! in March 2012.

The biggest change has been in the area of situational depression recovery. In January 2011, we found out La’s job was moving to another city. And with a very small decision window as to whether to stay/move or leave/look for another job. The good news: La was able to do consulting for a few months and actually found a better job, closer, and for the same salary in just 2 months. HOWEVER, I still had 19 separate episodes during that timeframe.

A little over a year later, I learned that we’re looking at possibly around $20,000 in dental work or I may lose a number of key teeth plus significant bone loss which means I may lose them anyway and pay even more. At the age of 42 – thanks grandma and mom for passing that gene down! However, I have had only 1 episode so far surrounding this situation! As I have not yet called to make the periodontist appointment or additional two appointments for dental surgery and a possible root canal, more may be on the way. So, at this point, the number and duration of future episodes are my main concern and what actions I can do now to fend them off.

Why the “Questions” Are Important:

Both situations have 1 thing in common – they were high on the life-impacting scale and are time delimited. The question now is: we know that physical activity can help decrease or even prevent episodes as I deal with this dental situation, but how much, how often, and for how long? Dental issues versus job loss may seem quite different but 8 months of impacted income versus 2+ years and $20K are similar in my “freak out” scale.?- will my current schedule of 1 yoga class and 3-4 days of 40-50 minute gym sessions per week be enough to help me cope with the upcoming appointments, the financial hit, and stress of the actual dental work without meltdown after meltdown? Does it need to be more? Or do I need different combinations of activity?

The Answer:

I have absolutely no idea BUT I am going to find out. This will be aided considerably by some of the side benefits of increased activity. There has been a significant decrease in the frequency and duration of whining, pity parties, and general self absorbtion. I bounce back quicker from adversity, wallow for shorter periods of time, can more easily navigate social situations, and am a better partner/friend. (This has been seconded by my honey!) That’s also thanks in part to this blog – looking for ideas that help others as well as myself has played a huge role in dragging me out of my own head and back into the world. Thanks so much everyone – you have truly been a transformational force!! But I can’t discount the mood stabilizing benefits of exercise (or my honey’s “go to yoga” mantra when I won’t get off the couch after a few days).

The Challenge:

Finding the answers to the questions, the magic bullet that will help not only me, but others, deal with life changing and traumatic situations. Figuring out the most effective “prescription” depending on the severity of the situation and getting the social support that may be necessary to “take the exercise pill”.


During the coming months I will create and use a special spreadsheet to track the relationship between stressors, episodes, and exercise to see if I can find any significant correlates. And I will also do the work of more intense technical research. Then I will report the findings back to you, backed by both personal and empirical data – what the amateur and the pros have discovered.

For the geek in you, pretty exciting stuff! Especially if it yields results that we can all use to help more effectively cope with life’s ups and downs. Stay tuned, I’ll be updating you periodically with findings!


2 thoughts on “GeekChic Corner: Examining the Relationship Between Mood Recovery and Exercise

  1. Thank you so much and thank you as well for your support and encouragement – it has been inspiring and motivating! Have a way’s to go before the book comes out, too many unanswered questions, too much research still to do. Legitimate research, like going back to my college library and psych dept. There is just too much conflicting info on the ‘net and sometimes you just have to sit down with the journals and wade through the data. Promise not to be as dry on the blog but it’s nice to know that my hard earned higher ed is being put to good use and helping people. Thanks again for letting me know it was worth the hard work!

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