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Can exercise help with PTSD Symptoms? 

Recent research has revealed that exercise can help patients with anxiety disorders reduce their symptoms.  Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a severe anxiety disorder resulting from exposure to trauma. Flashbacks, personality changes, disturbed sleep, mood swings, startle responses, nightmares, anxiety, low self-esteem or depression are often experienced in those with PTSD. Understanding the way that PTSD impacts someone’s mental and physical health can be crucial for a successful treatment plan.

“Part of what we do is to educate the patient. To tell them, ‘Hey, this is an expected problem with this condition. It is part of your condition’… We can study it to understand what is going on and treat it.” – Dr. Capote, Medical Director of the Division of Neuropsychiatry at DENT.


Previous Research

It is thought that those who exercise regularly are less likely to suffer from anxiety and depression, which are severe symptoms of PTSD.

A study conducted in 2005 asked PTSD sufferers to participate in a 12 week long aerobic exercise program. Researchers reported positive results in participants’ moods and reduced levels of anxiety. This study was published in the International Journal of Emergency Mental Health. They saw results as early as one month into the study.


Evolved Studies

More recently, a study was done through the University of West Florida. This study was part of a master’s thesis in Exercise Science, and was designed to provide the control group empirically validated treatment for comparison that had been missed in the previous studies.

This study followed 14 women who had been survivors of rape through an eight-week treatment period. All women attended cognitive-behavioral therapy sessions, held bi-weekly. Seven of the women (50%) also participated in physical training classes two times per week. At the eight week mark, those who have engaged in physical exercise revealed more progress. Their progress was measured by the Checklist for Post Traumatic Symptoms. This is a questionnaire used to assess trauma.


Results in veterans

Researchers at Loughborough University have looked over many studies that reviewed the impact of sport and physical activity on combat veterans diagnosed with PTSD. They found that physical activity enhances the well-being of the veterans.

Aerobic exercise reduces depression symptoms and helps prevent the abuse of drugs. However, some veterans might have complications that prevent them from completing vigorous exercise.  Less physically demanding exercise, like yoga, is another option. Recent research shows that yoga may help individuals with PTSD focus on the present, reduce rumination, and combat negative thinking patterns.


Why does exercise help?

Exercise stimulates the brain’s release of endorphins. These chemicals are responsible for producing feelings of well-being. Exercise can suppress and reduce chemicals within the body related to anxiety and depression.

Exercise tires the body, which results in sleep coming a little more easily.  Physical activity can also lead to a boost in self-esteem and positive feelings of control over one’s body.


The importance of hope

The reduction of symptoms seems to appear due to the sense of determination and hope, increased quality of life and the cultivation of positive self-identity. Participating in physical activity helps one gain or regain a sense of achievement.


Here at Dent, our goal is to expand psychiatric services and to improve psychiatric care in Western New York. We treat adult patients for a wide range of mental illnesses and addiction disorders including depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and more. Over the years, our psychiatric team has continued to grow which has allowed for increased access to care as well as expansion treatment modalities such as ECT, TMS, and psychotherapy.

“Because of all our different focuses at Dent, we actually have a more complete, holistic approach.” – Dr. Capote. If you or someone you know is looking for our Psychiatry Center, click here for information on our psychiatry services.