Understanding PTSD and the Importance of Exercise Physiology in Recovery

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Exercise Physiology plays an important role in the recovery process for individuals experiencing PTSD. Whilst the research regarding exercise and PTSD is relatively limited and still growing, what has been demonstrated to date reveals how exercise plays a crucial role within the treatment plan for PTSD. Here’s why:

One of the most rigorous randomised controlled trials for exercise and PTSD led by
Dr Simon Rosenbaum revealed how the addition of an exercise intervention to usual care, usual care involving psychology and medication, resulted in participants reporting improvements in PTSD symptom severity, anxiety, depression, stress, and PTSD-related sleep disturbances.

There are many physical health consequences in people living with PTSD along with their reduced mental health. People with PTSD have a higher prevalence of cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. This contributes to people with PTSD having a reduced life expectancy of around 15 years in comparison to the general population. These physical health concerns in people with PTSD often get overlooked as traditional treatments typically focus on the mental health aspect of PTSD alone. The physical health benefits that exercise can provide are established, and these findings help support the role of exercise for people living with PTSD in helping treat both the mental and physical components that are associated with the disorder.

Participating in group exercise activities, such as fitness classes or team sports, can provide valuable social interaction, motivation, and support. Building connections with others who share similar interests can help reduce feelings of isolation and provide a sense of community, which is often crucial in the recovery process for those with PTSD.

For those experiencing PTSD, incorporating exercise into their daily routine can be highly beneficial. Please keep in mind, more research is needed to better understand the optimal types, durations, and frequencies of exercise interventions for PTSD. However, see below for some practical recommendations that are known:

Develop an individualised exercise program that begins with low-intensity exercise such as walking, yoga, or swimming with a view to gradually progress the intensity and duration as fitness levels improve.

Choose exercises that are enjoyable and engaging. If the individual is engaging with enjoyable activities, they are more likely to be sustained over the long term.

Combining exercises as a part of your exercise program including both resistance training and aerobic exercise has been shown to have greater effects on PTSD symptoms then only having one form of exercise modality alone.

Set achievable and realistic fitness goals. Celebrate progress, no matter how small, to maintain motivation and a sense of accomplishment.

Mind-body exercises such as yoga, mindfulness meditation, and deep breathing exercises can be particularly beneficial for PTSD. These exercises can help not only promote physical fitness but also provide the individual with strategies to help manage their anxiety and stress.

Consider working with an Exercise Physiologist or a fitness professional who has experience working with individuals with PTSD. They can provide personalised exercise plans and ensure that activities are safe, enjoyable, and effective.
PTSD can be a debilitating condition, but incorporating regular exercise into a treatment plan in additional to usual care can significantly enhance the recovery process. Exercise Physiology offers valuable insights into how physical activity can improve not only the mental health symptoms associated with PTSD, but also the physical health consequences that accompany the disorder. By prioritising exercise, individuals with PTSD can take important steps toward reclaiming control over their lives and achieving greater overall well-being.

Written by Uplift Exercise Physiologist, Lachlan Haines

 

 

References:

Jadhakhan, F., Lambert, N., Middlebrook, N., Evans, D. W., & Falla, D. (2022). Is exercise/physical activity effective at reducing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in adults—A systematic review. Frontiers in Psychology, 13, 943479.

Rosenbaum, S., Vancampfort, D., Steel, Z., Newby, J., Ward, P. B., & Stubbs, B. (2015). Physical activity in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychiatry research, 230(2), 130-136.

Stubbs, B., Rosenbaum, S. (2018). Exercise-Based Interventions for Mental Illness. Academic Press.

 

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