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Diet and exercise

Psychiatric drugs can pack on the pounds

Here's what you can do about it

Have you read these?


Those of us who live with psychiatric disorders tend to be less physically active because the disorder saps our energy and motivation. So we get the double whammy of weight gain resulting from both our sedentary lifestyle and our medication. Our self-esteem plummets, contributing to our depression. But, exercise has many benefits beyond the physical. It lifts mood, improves sleep and lowers anxiety.

Create your own fitness plan that incorporates calming/breathing exercises, relaxation training, stretching and flexibility exercises, warm ups and cool downs. Here are some exercises and stretches you can do on your own.

Check out the local municipal recreation facility or join a health club. Consider tennis, yoga or water aerobics classes.

Build exercise into your everyday activities.

  • Rake the leaves or mow the lawn.

  • Park a little farther away and walk.

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.

  • Take a walk on your lunch hour or after dinner with family members.

  • Walk the dog.

  • Start walking 10 minutes a day and increase the time by five minutes each week until you can walk 30 minutes a day.


Here we get another double whammy with both our meds and our illness working against us. Many psychiatric drugs bulk us up no matter what we eat; some of them stimulate our appetite, making us overeat. And mood disorders create carbohydrate cravings, because carbs increase serotonin, which makes us feel better, so we eat too much of the wrong foods. Here are some basic guidelines to a healthier diet.

  • Eat more fruits, whole grain, vegetables, lean meat, fish, and poultry.

  • Drink six to eight glasses of water each day.

  • Drink fewer alcoholic and high-calorie beverages.

  • Eat smaller portions.

  • Eat more frequent small meals and snacks to lower insulin levels, reducing the production of body fat.

  • Eat slowly to give the stomach time to signal the brain when it's full.

  • Prepare food by broiling or baking more often instead of frying.

  • Try not to soothe your negative feelings with food.

  • Here are some tips from the National Institutes of Health

Exercise can help reduce stress and anxiety

Even a little can help us maintain mental fitness

Stress is an inevitable part of life. Many of us experience stress or anxiety daily, and for some of us, it interferes with our lives, according to a recent survey by the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA). It’s impossible to eliminate stress, but you can learn to manage it.

Exercise is the stress-busting technique most recommended by health care professionals. A third of us are already on the right track by walking for exercise. Others run or do yoga.

The physical benefits of exercise—improving physical condition and fighting disease—have long been known. But regular aerobic exercise can also decrease tension, lift and stabilize mood and improve self-esteem. It’s effective at reducing fatigue and improving alertness and concentration. Even five minutes of aerobic exercise can stimulate anti-anxiety effects.

Psychologists studying how exercise relieves anxiety and depression say that a 10-minute walk may be just as good as a 45-minute workout. A brisk walk or other simple activity can deliver several hours of relief.

Exercise as Part of Therapy That's why exercise is an integral part of every treatment program recommended by ADAA President and CEO Jerilyn Ross, MA, LICSW. “It's one of the first things I tell patients, whether they are suffering from an anxiety disorder or trying to cope with everyday stress,” she says. “People may feel powerless in terms of home life, finances, or politics, but they're in control when they exercise.”

Fitness Tips: Stay Healthy, Manage Stress Federal guidelines for adults recommend at least 2½ hours of moderate-intensity physical activity (e.g. brisk walking) each week, 1¼ hours of a vigorous-intensity activity (such as jogging or swimming laps), or a combination of the two. If you have an exercise program already, keep up the good work. If not, here are tips to get you started.

5 X 30: Jog, walk, bike, or dance three to five times a week for 30 minutes. Set small daily goals and aim for daily consistency rather than perfect workouts. It's better to walk every day for 15-20 minutes than to wait until the weekend for a three-hour fitness marathon.

Find forms of exercise that are fun or enjoyable. Extroverted people often like classes and group activities. People who are more introverted often prefer solo pursuits. Distract yourself with a portable media player to download audiobooks, podcasts, or music. Many people find it’s more fun to exercise while listening to something they enjoy.

Recruit an “exercise buddy.” It's often easier to stick to your exercise routine when you have to stay committed to a friend, partner, or colleague.

Be patient when you start a new exercise program. Most sedentary people require about four to eight weeks to feel coordinated and sufficiently in shape so that exercise feels easier.

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