Exercise May Help with PTSD

The benefits of exercise may have more reason to be sung after research reveals that it can help patients with anxiety disorders to reduce their symptoms.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a severe anxiety disorder resulting from exposure to trauma which involves serious physical danger. It is a condition which is most often diagnosed in people who have experienced either physical or sexual abuse, battle trauma, or natural disasters. Sufferers from PTSD may experience flashbacks/nightmares, severe anxiety, feelings of lack of control, low self-esteem or depression. Because of nightmares, PTSD sufferers may also be unable to form healthy sleep patterns.

PTSD Research

Two studies have examined the potential benefits of exercise regimens in the treatment of PTSD. One study, conducted in 2005, was published in the International Journal of Emergency Mental Health. This study asked PTSD sufferers to participate in a 12-week aerobic exercise program. As early as one month into the study, researchers reported positive results in participants’ moods as well as reduced levels of anxiety.

A second and more recent study, conducted through the University of West Florida, confirmed the findings of the earlier research. This study, the findings of which were made public this summer, was part of a master’s thesis in Exercise Science. The study’s author, Erika Smith, said that her research was designed to provide the control group empirically validated treatment for comparison that had been missing in previous studies.

The study from the University of West Florida followed 14 women who had been victims of rape through an eight-week treatment period. All of the fourteen women attended bi-weekly cognitive-behavioral therapy sessions. Half of the women (7) additionally participated in physical training classes two times per week. At the eight-week benchmark, both groups demonstrated progress as measured by scores completed on the Checklist for Post Traumatic Symptoms, a questionnaire used to assess their trauma. However, the scores of those who had engaged in physical exercise revealed more progress.

Benefits of Exercise

Aerobic exercise achieves these improvements in several ways. First, vigorous exercise stimulates the brain’s release of endorphins. These chemicals are responsible for producing feelings of well-being, in the past referred to as a “runners’ high.” Exercise also can suppress and reduce other chemicals within the body which can heighten feelings of anxiety and depression.

Strenuous exercise tires the body so that sleep comes more easily, an important component for sufferers from PTSD. Finally, exercise delivers intrinsic benefits such as improved self-esteem and increased feelings of control over one’s body.

The researchers hope that further study will be done to investigate the benefits of combining aerobic exercise therapy alongside other treatments.

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