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Exercise Beneficial As Part of Therapy for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder


Researchers from the University of West Florida have found aerobic exercise may be an effective treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Doctors are increasingly prescribing exercise for the prevention and treatment of many diseases as it can alleviate the stress that exacerbates many symptoms and promotes physical fitness which can help with resiliency.

Exercise Can Alleviate Stress and Depression Symptoms and Promote Cardiovascular Fitness

Erika Smith and colleagues studied 14 participants who were recruited through a Certified Rape Crisis Center in Pensacola, Florida. All participants attended bi-weekly cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) sessions. Seven of the volunteers additionally attended a minimum of two group circuit training classes per week lasting 40 minutes in duration. The team recorded each individual’s PTSD symptoms before and after treatment using the PTSD Checklist Stressor Specific Version (PCL-S) which consists of 17 questions that the patient rates on a scale of 1 (not at all) to 5 (extremely).

Participants from both groups experienced improvements but those who participated in the exercise component showed a clinically significant improvement in PCL-S scores (10+ points).

Read: Transcendental Meditation Lowers Combat Related PTSD in Veterans

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Exercise is not only good for mental health, but also cardiovascular fitness. Another new study has found that those with PTSD also have a higher chance of developing heart disease.

Researcher Ramin Ebrahimi MD from the Greater Los Angeles Veterans Administration Medical Center and colleagues screened 637 veterans, mostly male with an average age of 60 years old. Eighty-eight had signs and symptoms of PTSD. The researchers performed calcium imaging scans of their hearts to look for accumulation of plaque in the arteries. Over three-quarters of the vets with PTSD had coronary atherosclerosis versus 59% among the other vets.

Read: PTSD, Depression Hurts Soldiers Home from Iraq, Afghanistan

The subjects were then followed for three and a half years and by the end of the study 17% of those with PTSD had died, compared to 10% of those without the disorder. The risk of death was higher for those with PTSD even when plaque build-up was identical to those without.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a kind of anxiety triggered by a traumatic event causing extreme shock, fear, or a feeling of helplessness. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that approximately 1 in every 30 US adults develops PTSD every year. The risk for war veterans is significantly greater with some reports suggesting that about 1 in every 4 service men and women returning from Iraq or Afghanistan will develop at least one combat-related problem such as PTSD, anxiety, or depression.

1. 58th Annual Meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine, 2nd World Congress on Exercise is Medicine.
2. "Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, Coronary Atherosclerosis, and Mortality" Naser Ahmadi, MD, MS, Ramin Ebrahimi, MD et al
"American Journal of Cardiology". published online 02 May 2011. doi:10.1016/j.amjcard.2011.02.340