Carol Jenney, assistant professor of human medicine at Michigan State University, presented her research on the effects of physical activity for patients with bipolar disorder (BD) and schizophrenia (SZO). Her primary focus was on how to promote an increase in simple activity for people with BD.
Jenney grew up in Toledo, Ohio and didn’t know about Alma. “If I had known about Alma, I would’ve come for at least two years,” said Jenney. “You are gems.”
Bipolar disorder is a cycle where a person’s mood moves through different phases. The pattern consists of hypomania, which can lead to severe mania, normal/balanced mood and mild to moderate depression, which can lead to severe depression.
The difficulties of hypomania to severe mania are detecting the signs that trigger them. An increase in inspiration (ex. writing poetry, motivation to move, increased focus) may be normal for anyone except someone with BD. When patients reach severe mania, it may cause them to exhibit high-risk behavior.
Depression is considered “safer” than hypomania, but patients still struggle. A symptom of depression is the lack of motivation leading to a high amount of inactivity.
In an initial experiment, Jenney matched a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey on the physical activity of people that suffer from BD. The initial goal of the experiment was to not increase activity but decrease sedentary time; an example would be walking around during commercials while watching television.
A typical patient with BD experiences an episode every year with the length of time varying. Medical comorbidities include, but aren’t limited to, cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes. BD may also lead to an early death, approximately 25 years earlier.
Jenney’s experiment offered a motivation boost for patients with BD to be more active. For two years, Jenney would meet with patients for an hour; during the sessions, patients would walk on a treadmill and have a conversation.
In the beginning, patients would complain to the nurses about having to see Jenney for their treadmill appointment, but after time they became excited to go. Out of the two years, the individuals with BD only missed one day, and it was because Jenney was out of town for a conference.
An original concern of the experiment was increasing hyperactivity in patients. The thought was that the increase in the amount of activity could potentially trigger mania, but this did not occur.
Jenney’s goal for the test was to promote enough motivation to continue the activity by walking 45 minutes for five days a week. While not all patients reached this goal, the experiment was still successful in helping people with BD.
One woman was a hoarder but followed a similar routine; each day she would take a little bit of time to clear things out of her house. After some time, her family went to visit, and while there was still clutter, they were dumbfounded by the change they saw.
While the experiments were informative and provided positive results, the point of the lecture was also to explain the reasons behind the focus of study. Jenney wanted to bring awareness to the need for mental health support for patients and people who suffer from mental illnesses.
There are many aspects that hold back people from receiving the care that they need, according to Jenney. These include financing, transportation, losing firearms, community exclusion and the fear of losing jobs.
Jenney emphasized community involvement to help provide for people with mental health disorders. This also involved training police forces to better know how to handle patients so they receive the treatment they need instead of being sent to jail.
During the lecture there was a question on whether medications could have affected the experiments. Jenney explained that medications were taken into consideration, but there was “not a kaleidoscope of meds”. Patients’ medicines were assessed each day as well.
Another question asked if any other form of physical activity was used aside from walking on a treadmill. “I would have liked to have gotten stationary bikes,” said Jenney. She also mentioned swimming and other water activities as being a good alternative to prevent injuries and the strain on people who are less active.
Motivation is the most important factor for those who suffer from bipolar disorder. Jenney would have liked to coach the patients for more than two years but was still satisfied with the results. “By working with older people, it will translate to the younger population,” said Jenney.