Using self-compassion to promote physical activity: A randomized pilot study for women diagnosed with mood disorders


Up to 55% of higher-weight individuals experience clinical depression or bipolar disorder, and this significant overlap is disproportionately observed among women. Women are also three times more likely to seek weight management, yet those with mood disorders experience the highest rates of attrition. Indeed, higher-weight women with mood disorders report avoiding physical activity due to the ubiquitous experience of weight bias, stigma, and discrimination in these contexts. Since increased physical activity can improve mood symptoms and reduce disease risk, regardless of changes in weight – intervention strategies aimed at enhancing women's experiences in physical activity are imperative. The present investigation assesses the feasibility of a compassion-focused education program delivered to higher-weight women with mood disorders seeking behavioural treatment (i.e., nutrition, physical activity), and examined changes in physical activity. Treatment-seeking women with a diagnosed mood disorder (n = 47) were randomized into either the 6-week education program (n = 24) or a waitlist control (n = 23). The intervention showed evidence of acceptability as assessed by the proportion of eligible participants who agree to participate in the study (82%), adherence (70% attended all sessions), and time spent engaging in program components (n = 45 minutes/week). Within-person effect sizes suggest a meaningful increase in minutes engaged in physical activity in the intervention group (d = -0.23), compared to the control group (d = 0.54). As such, programs that focus on building self-compassion may be an acceptable intervention that holds promise for enhancing engagement in physical activity among higher-weight women with mood disorders.