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Lifestyle & Health Habits of People with OCD: Lack of Exercise, Poor Diets, Bad Sleep (2024 Study)

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is more than a mental health issue; it’s a condition that can influence the physical health and lifestyle habits of those it affects.

A recent international survey shed light on the intricate relationship between OCD and various health-related issues, highlighting the importance of addressing lifestyle habits alongside mental health treatment.

By exploring the lifestyle patterns of individuals with OCD, this study provides crucial insights into how physical activity, diet, sleep, and substance use intertwine with the condition, offering a pathway to holistic treatment approaches.


  1. Prevalence of Unhealthy Lifestyle Habits: A significant number of individuals with OCD report engaging in unhealthy lifestyle habits, including low physical activity, poor dietary choices, and non-restorative sleep.
  2. Physical Health Issues: More than 70% of individuals with OCD have at least one diagnosed physical health problem, with allergies, gastrointestinal disorders, and cardiometabolic conditions being the most common.
  3. Impact of OCD Severity: The severity of OCD symptoms correlates with lifestyle habits, with those experiencing more severe symptoms more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors.
  4. Desire for Change: Despite the challenges, a majority of individuals with OCD express a desire to improve their lifestyle habits, highlighting the need for targeted support and interventions.

Source: BMC Psychiatry (2024)

Rationale for Researching Health & Lifestyle Habits in People with OCD

Insight into Daily Living: Researching health and lifestyle habits in individuals with OCD is vital as it sheds light on the disorder’s extensive effects beyond psychological symptoms. It delves into how OCD influences fundamental aspects of well-being, including physical activity, nutrition, and sleep, providing a deeper understanding of the condition’s reach.

Development of Interventions: By identifying how OCD affects health and lifestyle habits, this research enables the creation of more holistic and effective interventions. These can simultaneously address mental health symptoms and lifestyle factors, leading to improved overall outcomes for those with OCD.

Identifying Barriers to Healthy Living: This area of study uncovers the unique challenges and barriers individuals with OCD face in maintaining healthy lifestyle habits. Understanding these obstacles is crucial for developing specific strategies that help individuals overcome them and engage in healthier behaviors.

Holistic Perspectives: The research emphasizes the need for a broader approach to OCD treatment. Traditionally focused on mitigating psychological symptoms, the findings advocate for the integration of physical health and lifestyle modifications into the therapeutic process.

Enhanced Quality of Life: Ultimately, investigating the health and lifestyle habits of people with OCD aims to enhance their quality of life. By acknowledging and addressing the interconnection between mind and body, the research supports a more comprehensive support system for individuals with OCD, promoting better health outcomes and well-being.

OCD vs. Health & Lifestyle Habits (2024 Study)

Anna Holmberg et al. studied the physical health and lifestyle habits of individuals with self-reported OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) – below are the major findings.

1. Demographic & Clinical Characteristics

Participants: 496 individuals with a self-reported OCD diagnosis participated, predominantly women (78.8%), with an average age of 36 years (SD = 12.5), ranging from 18 to 79 years.

Geographic Distribution: The majority were from Europe (49.4%) and North America (37.7%).

OCD Severity: The OCD symptom severity, measured by the OCI-12, fell within the moderate range (mean score = 21.2, SD = 9.1).

Comorbidities: A significant portion (71.4%) reported having at least one comorbid somatic health issue, with allergies, gastrointestinal conditions, and cardiometabolic conditions being the most commonly reported.

2. Physical Health

BMI & Obesity: Close to half of the respondents (47.6%) had a body mass index (BMI) ≥ 25, indicating overweight or obesity, with 24.8% classified as obese (BMI ≥ 30).

Health Problems: A majority reported at least one physical health problem (71.4%), with allergies (38.7%) and gastrointestinal conditions (27.0%) leading the list.

3. Lifestyle Habits

Physical Activity: Over half of the participants (55.0%) were categorized into the low physical activity group based on the International Physical Activity Questionnaire (IPAQ) short form.

Dietary Habits: The survey revealed that 36.7% of individuals followed unhealthy dietary patterns, while only 12.1% adhered to a healthy diet.

Alcohol Consumption: Risk consumption of alcohol was reported by 22.3% of the sample, as determined by the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test–Concise (AUDIT-C).

Tobacco Use: Tobacco use was reported by 15.1% of respondents, including both cigarette smoking and snuff/smokeless tobacco use.

Sleep Patterns: Non-restorative sleep was reported by 54.0% of participants, with a majority sleeping 7–9 hours per night but not feeling rested upon waking.

4. Subgroup Analyses

OCD Severity: More severe OCD symptoms were associated with worse dietary habits, higher tobacco use, and poorer sleep quality.

Sex Differences: Women reported a higher prevalence of physical health problems compared to men, with variations in the type of conditions reported.

Age Group: Older participants reported more somatic health problems and a higher BMI than younger individuals. Risky alcohol consumption and drug use were more common among the youngest participants.

5. Desire for Lifestyle Change

A significant majority (89.5%) expressed a desire to change their lifestyle habits, particularly to increase physical activity, eat healthier, and improve sleep quality.

However, barriers such as lack of motivation and the impact of mental health were cited as challenges to making these changes.

Physical Health & Lifestyle Habits of Adults with OCD (2024 Study)

This study sought to understand the prevalence of unhealthy lifestyle habits—such as physical inactivity, poor diet, smoking, and alcohol consumption—among individuals with OCD and how these habits might contribute to the broader range of health-related issues associated with the disorder.


  • The survey was conducted online and made available in seven languages, reaching out to participants worldwide through social media and interest organizations from July 2021 to March 2022.
  • It targeted individuals aged 18 years or older who reported a confirmed diagnosis of OCD.
  • The questionnaire collected detailed information on socio-demographic variables, clinical characteristics (including OCD symptom severity measured by the 12-item self-report scale Obsessive-Compulsive Inventory [OCI-12], and psychotropic medication usage), physical health, and lifestyle habits.
  • Statistical analyses, including frequencies, percentages, means, standard deviations, and subgroup analyses by OCD symptom severity, gender, and age group, were performed to interpret the data.


A total of 496 individuals completed the survey. Key findings include:

  • The mean age of participants was 36 years, with a significant majority being women (78.8%).
  • Most respondents were from Europe (49.4%) and North America (37.7%), with moderate OCD symptom severity on average.
  • A majority (71.4%) reported comorbid somatic health issues, with allergies, gastrointestinal conditions, and cardiometabolic conditions being most common.
  • Nearly half of the sample (47.6%) had a body mass index indicating overweight or obesity.
  • Significant proportions of the sample reported low physical activity (55.0%), unhealthy dietary habits (36.7%), risk consumption of alcohol (22.3%), and non-restorative sleep (54.0%).
  • Desire for lifestyle change was high, yet many reported challenges in making these changes lasting or effective.


  • The non-probabilistic sampling method and the self-reported nature of the survey responses, which could introduce biases and affect the generalizability of the findings.
  • A predominance of female participants and respondents mainly from Europe and North America, limiting the representativeness of the sample.
  • The reliance on self-reported data for both OCD diagnosis and lifestyle habits, which may not accurately reflect clinical diagnoses or actual behaviors.
  • The absence of a control group, which makes it challenging to compare the findings directly with the general population or individuals without OCD.
  • The study did not correct for multiple comparisons due to its exploratory nature, which might increase the risk of type I error.

Lifestyle Strategies for Health Enhancement in People with OCD

Based on the insights garnered from the international survey on individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), several recommendations and strategies can be proposed to potentially help improve both health and lifestyle.

  1. Physical Activity & Exercise: Enroll in structured exercise programs that cater to varying levels of fitness and interests, such as yoga, swimming, or group sports, to increase physical activity in a supportive environment.
  2. Dietary Modifications: Seek guidance from a nutritionist familiar with mental health conditions to develop a balanced, nutrient-rich diet plan that considers the unique stressors and dietary preferences of individuals with OCD. Incorporate more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains into meals while reducing processed foods and sugars.
  3. Mindful Eating Practices: Practice mindful eating to improve the relationship with food and to help recognize natural hunger and fullness cues, which can be particularly beneficial for those with unhealthy dietary habits.
  4. Alcohol & Substance Use Awareness: Participate in programs or workshops that focus on understanding the impact of alcohol and substance use on both mental and physical health, offering strategies for moderation or abstinence.
  5. Sleep Hygiene Education: Implement sleep hygiene practices, such as maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, creating a restful environment, and limiting screen time before bed, to improve sleep quality. Consider mindfulness or relaxation techniques to address insomnia or non-restorative sleep.
  6. Stress Management Techniques: Engage in stress reduction activities, such as mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises, or progressive muscle relaxation, to help mitigate the stress component often associated with OCD.
  7. OCD-Specific Therapy: Explore Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with exposure and response prevention (ERP), specifically tailored for OCD, to help manage symptoms that may be hindering lifestyle changes.
  8. Social Support & Community Engagement: Join support groups or online forums for individuals with OCD to share experiences, challenges, and strategies related to lifestyle changes and physical health. Encourage participation in community events or volunteer opportunities to enhance social connections and reduce isolation.
  9. Regular Health Check-Ups: Schedule regular medical check-ups to monitor physical health status, particularly for conditions more prevalent among individuals with OCD, such as cardiometabolic issues.
  10. Goal Setting & Self-Monitoring: Set realistic, achievable goals for lifestyle changes, using tools like journals or apps to monitor progress and adjust strategies as needed.
  11. Educational Resources: Utilize educational resources to increase awareness about the interplay between mental health, physical health, and lifestyle choices, empowering individuals with OCD to make informed decisions.
  12. Professional Guidance: Seek professional guidance from mental health professionals, dietitians, physical therapists, or personal trainers who understand the complexities of OCD, ensuring that any recommended changes are feasible and considerate of the individual’s mental health condition.

Implementing these strategies requires a multifaceted approach that considers the individual needs, preferences, and challenges faced by those with OCD.

Tailored interventions that address both mental and physical health holistically can significantly improve the quality of life for individuals with OCD, helping them to achieve more balanced and healthy lifestyles.

Conclusion: OCD & Lifestyle Habits

The international survey on individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) reveals a complex interplay between the disorder and various health and lifestyle factors.

It underscores the significant prevalence of unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as low physical activity, poor dietary choices, and non-restorative sleep, among those with OCD.

Furthermore, the findings highlight the desire among individuals with OCD to improve their lifestyle habits despite facing barriers related to their condition.

The study emphasizes the need for comprehensive, tailored interventions that address both the psychological and physical aspects of OCD, aiming to enhance overall well-being.

By drawing attention to the specific health and lifestyle challenges faced by individuals with OCD, this research paves the way for more holistic treatment approaches.

Ultimately, the study calls for a greater focus on integrating lifestyle modifications into the management of OCD, recognizing the role of physical health in achieving mental health recovery.


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