Structured exercise including resistance training and walking helps people to recover from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as other mental health conditions, an Australian study has revealed.
Study author Simon Rosenbaum, of The George Institute for Global Health and The University of Sydney in Australia, said: “This study provides the first evidence from a clinical trial using hospitalised patients that exercise is associated with reduced PTSD and depressive symptoms, reduced waist circumference and improved sleep quality.”
PTSD can occur following a traumatic event, such as threats to safety or exposure to horrific events, and affects 5-10% of the population, with rates significantly higher for returned soldiers or police officers. Symptoms of PTSD can include experiencing flashbacks, emotional detachment, insomnia, poor physical health, weight gain and hypervigilance.
Traditionally, treatment has involved medication, psychotherapy and group therapy.
The study, published in the medical journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, was carried out with 81, mostly male patients, overwhelmingly from a service or police background, at St John Of God Health Care’s Richmond Hospital’s PTSD treatment programme in Australia.
Strephon Billinghurst, CEO of Richmond Hospital, said that since the research had been completed, structured exercise interventions have become a key component of the approach the hospital uses in supporting patients recover from PTSD.
John Bale, CEO of Soldier On, an Australian veteran’s charity affiliated with Richmond Hospital, added: “This study formalises what many have found to be true after leaving the service – exercise helps in the management of the negative psychological effects of war.
“Soldier On has promoted physical training as a tool in recovery since its founding, and we see many men and women benefiting from the use of regular exercise as a way to manage their mental health, particularly with cases of PTSD.
“Thousands have been affected by their service, and this study will help to encourage many more of these men and women to stay fit and healthy as they recover.”
Dr Rosenbaum said the study provided the evidence that exercise boosts to people’s ability to manage their PTSD using traditional methods. “We believe that this study will change treatment all over the world,” he added. “This study provides the evidence that people suffering from severe PTSD should have an exercise programme included as part of their treatment and management.”
He added that the study results build on the findings other trials investigating the effects of exercise on people with depression and schizophrenia. “It underscores the wider evidence that exercise is a powerful therapy for the mind, and for a variety of mental health conditions.”