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Toward exercise as medicine for adolescents with bipolar disorder

Principal Investigator:
  • Benjamin Goldstein, Sunnybrook Research Institute
Team Members:
  • Brian McCrindle, The Hospital for Sick Children
  • Guy Faulkner, University of British Columbia
  • Rachel Mitchell, Sunnybrook Research Institute
  • Bradley MacIntosh, Sunnybrook Research Institute
  • Andrew Kcomt, Mood Disorders Association of Ontario and Toronto
  • Erin Michalak, University of British Columbia
  • Sunnybrook Foundation

Project Overview

This project focuses on improving aerobic fitness (AF) among adolescents with bipolar disorder (BD). BD affects 2-5% of adolescents and is the 4th most disabling medical condition among adolescents worldwide. Even with treatment, adolescents with BD spend over half of the time with mood symptoms that impair quality of life. Adolescents with BD are also at higher risk for early cardiovascular disease compared to those without BD. Increasing AF can improve both short-term and long-term mental health, physical health, and quality of life. This study will be the first to examine how to engage adolescents with BD to increase their AF. In addition to scientists and clinician-scientists, the research team includes social workers, a mental health advocacy leader, an adolescent with BD, and a parent of an adolescent with BD. The team’s combination of expertise and experience will allow for a unique approach that would not be possible without integrating the perspectives of researchers, clinicians, and consumers.

The team will enroll 50 adolescents with BD in a 12-week behavior change counseling intervention, specifically focused on improving AF. Core intervention modules will include education about exercise, individualized in-person counseling on exercise beliefs and problem solving, and weekly phone counseling to enhance motivation, review exercise logs and diaries, and problem solve. Optional intervention modules will include coaching by a trained exercise professional, family focused counseling, and peer support. This patient-centered, flexible, personalized approach is intended to be feasible and effective across diverse settings and adolescents with BD. Despite the importance of the topic, there are no prior exercise intervention studies for adolescents with BD. The team believes that a project like this is needed to help the field progress.