PTSD can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event that is life threatening to themselves or others around them. This can include events such as motor vehicle accidents, assault, natural disasters, or experiencing the atrocities of war. People who suffer from PTSD may experience flashbacks of the trauma, avoidance of reminders of the trauma, negative thoughts and mood, increased arousal/ alertness to the environment, and physical response to sudden changes that could be a sign of danger. These symptoms of fear, anxiety and memories of trauma persists for a long period of time and leads to poor quality of life.
Approximately 10% of the general community are likely to develop PTSD compared to 25% of people who are exposed to traumatic events. Aside from its impact on mental health, PTSD is strongly linked with other comorbidities such as hypertension, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and depression. There is a trend that people with PTSD are more likely to engage in unhealthy lifestyle behaviours such as sedentary behaviour, poor diet, poor sleeping habits, smoking and alcohol abuse. These behaviours may make it more difficult for someone with PTSD to commence an exercise programme.
Research has shown that an appropriate exercise intervention can result in significant benefits to symptoms, depression, anxiety, stress and comorbidities associated with PTSD. Furthermore, exercise releases endorphins into the bloodstream that act as the body’s natural painkiller – making the body feel good! Even as it reduces levels of cortisol, which is a hormone that promotes stress/ depression, exercise has also shown to boost self-esteem by providing a positive feeling of accomplishment. Exercise can serve as an additional form of treatment alongside cognitive behaviour therapy, which helps those with PTSD regulate their depression and anxiety levels. General guidelines recommend 30-40 minutes of aerobic exercise 5 days per week, working at an intensity rate of 60-70% maximum heart rate. Complementary to aerobic exercise, appropriate resistance exercise has proven to serve additional benefits and reduce the risk of developing comorbidities linked with PTSD.
Our role as an Accredited Exercise Physiologist is to not only prescribe individualised exercise programmes to people who suffer from PTSD but offer them practical and emotional support, along with encouragement and education about using coping strategies to promote self-management and self-care to improve quality of life. If you would like to know more, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Daniel Nguyen (B.Sc. Exercise Physiology)
Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AES, AEP)(ESSAM)
Rosenbaum, S., Tiedemann, A., Sherrington, C. (2013) Exercise augmentation compared to usual care for posttraumatic stress disorder: A randomised controlled trial. The George Institute for Global Health: Australia. 1The George Institute for Global Health, Sydney University, Australia.