Background: Physical activity has been proposed to be beneficial for the symptomatic control of bipolar disorder, but the duration of the effects, sex-specific mechanisms, and impact of exercise intensity are not known. Method: With an observational study design, we followed skiers and age and sex-matched non-skiers from the general population to investigate if participation in a long-distance cross-country ski race (Vasaloppet) was associated with a lower risk of getting diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Using the Swedish population and patient registries, skiers in Vasaloppet and age and sex-matched non-skiers from the general population were analyzed for any diagnosis of bipolar disorder after participation in the race. Additionally, we used finishing time of the ski race as a proxy for intensity levels to investigate if exercise intensity impacts the risk of bipolar disorder among the physically active skiers. Results: Previous participation in a long distance ski race (n = 197,685, median age 36 years, 38% women) was associated with a lower incidence of newly diagnosed bipolar compared to an age and sex-matched general population (n = 197,684) during the up to 21 years follow-up (adjusted hazard ratio, HR = 0.48). The finishing time of the race did not significantly impact the risk of bipolar disorder in men. Among women, high performance (measured as the finishing time to complete the race, a proxy for higher exercise dose) was associated with an increased risk of bipolar disorder compared to slower skiing women (HR = 2.07). Conclusions: Our results confirm that a physically active lifestyle is associated with a lower risk of developing bipolar disorder. Yet, to elucidate the direction of causality in this relationship requires complementary study designs. And the influence of physical performance level on the risk of bipolar disorder warrants further examinations among women.
Subject classification (UKÄ)
- Cardiac and Cardiovascular Systems
- Long-term effect
- Mental health
- Psychiatric disorder