OCD and exercise

Me on the modern day torture device known as the leg press

Exercise is crucial for OCD recovery and maintenance in my experience. Even if sometimes it’s the last thing you feel like doing after a busy day at work followed by playing with two hyper children.

I prefer weightlifting myself, it’s a great way to practice mindfulness and I hate the treadmill. It’s also a fantastic refocusing activity, especially following any exposure work. I’m currently following the Bigger Leaner Stronger programme (highly recommend for intermediate weightlifters!)

Trust me, I know how hard it is to drag yourself to exercise at times when your mind isn’t right. Sometimes I have been so low and worn down by OCD in the past I have actually cried whilst in the middle of lifting weights. The last time, some time back now, I was sobbing in front of the mirror doing some bicep curls. I didn’t exactly look like the gym stud that day (not like I did any other day either, but it certainly didn’t help).

Don’t take my word for it, the following recent study (though I have to admit, slightly flawed in its methodology) shows that exercise increased mood, and reduced both obsessive and compulsive symptoms in OCD treatment resistant patients.

This isn’t exactly a breakthrough in OCD treatment and knowledge, any OCD expert worth their salt already knows this. But people should not underestimate the importance of exercise if you have OCD. I have found that it needs to become an integral part of your life; I don’t even see it as a choice anymore.

With my own OCD management I would estimate regular exercise to reduce symptoms by 25% at least, it also helps with recovering from any setbacks.

You don’t have to run a marathon or compete in the Strongman contests to get the benefits. Do the best you can. As long as you are progressively challenging yourself you will reap the benefits. I used to teach chair based exercises for the elderly in a past life, some of them had serious disabilities and still fought on and did their best. The point is the vast majority of us can at least do something, no matter how big or small.

You can even avoid the gym, or any exercise in public, if it’s not for you. Fitness Blender (and many others) on YouTube is a great place to start for beginners and they have all sorts of workouts at different levels.

I would be interested to hear what other’s views are on exercise and how much it has helped you to manage OCD or any other mental health conditions.