Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Sandra T. Sigmon

Second Committee Member

Jeffrey E. Hecker

Third Committee Member

Geoffrey L. Thorpe


Bipolar Disorder (BD) is a recurrent and debilitating psychological disorder characterized by a chronic dysregulation of mood with fluctuations between extremely low (e.g., depression) and extremely elevated mood states (e.g., mania), and ranks as the 6th leading cause of disability in the world. Although research has consistently shown that exercise may have antidepressant and stress-attenuating benefits in other psychiatric illnesses (e.g., depression, anxiety), these benefits have not been directly investigated for BD. The current study represents the first known investigation to examine this relationship. Single-participant designs, with crossover and interaction treatment components (i.e., A/B/A/B/A, A/C/A/C/A, A/B/A/C/A, or A/C/A/B/A) were utilized to investigate the impact of participation in a prescribed regimen of exercise (EP) versus standard behavioral activation (SBA; i.e., non-exercise activity) has on stress perception and reactivity, and mood stability in a sample of individuals with BD. Individuals completed four total weeks of treatment, and psychophysiological measures of reactivity were recorded during a laboratory stress task (i.e., backward counting task) prior to and following each two-week intervention phase. No appreciable differences were found between levels of exercise participation between treatment groups. Interestingly, symptoms of depressed mood (BDI-II scores) decreased at similar rates following 4 weeks of treatment for all participants. BDI-II decreases were found to be most correlated with elective exercise participation, although this relationship was not significant. Regarding stress reactivity, elective participation in mild to moderate intensity exercise was found to reduce an individual’s perception of stress reactivity to an acute stressor, while participation in a prescribed program of exercise was more effective in reducing physiological response to the same task. Utilizing multiple forms of behavioral activation simultaneously was found to be most effective in decreasing perception of stress reactivity, and may also result in a positive change in the use of adaptive versus maladaptive coping strategies. Participation in a 4-week program of exercise appeared to provide the most benefit, consistent with exercise habituation theories. Overall, current findings provide preliminary support for the prophylactic benefits of including a prescribed and monitored program of exercise as an adjunct treatment for individuals with BD. Larger scale research is needed to more clearly determine the impact of exercise on stress reactivity and mood episode relapse in individuals with BD.