Exercise has many benefits. It not only improves physical health, but benefits mental health too. A new study finds that exercise can reduce the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The study demonstrated that an exercise program of walking and simple strength exercises can diminish depression and anxiety in patients with PTSD. The research could lead to holistic treatments for people with PTSD.
The researchers conducted a randomized clinical trial with 81 patients who were receiving residential treatment at St. John of God Hospital in Richmond, Australia. The patients received a 12-week treatments: either a typical course of therapy or an individualized exercise program. The typical therapy program included group therapy, medication, and psychotherapy. The exercise program consisted of walking and strength exercises tailored to each patient to maximize motivation.
For the exercise program, many patients began by simply getting out of bed and walking to the nurses’ station. As the program continued, the patients made more laps to the nurses’ station and incorporated resistance band exercises that simulated exercises like a bench press or squats. The patients worked with an exercise physiologist to keep exercise diaries and establish specific exercise goals. They also tracked steps with a pedometer.
The exercise program benefited the PTSD patients more than typical course of therapy. The patients who participated in the exercise program had reduced PTSD symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress compared to those who received typical therapy. At the end of the 12-week treatment, the patients receiving typical therapy had gained weight, walked less, and sat more. In contrast, the patients in the exercise program lost weight and spent more time walking.
The study is the first to demonstrate the physical and mental health benefits of an individualized exercise program for people with PTSD. This type of exercise may offer a low-cost intervention for people struggling with PTSD. Because of the study’s positive results, St. John of God Hospital has now added exercise to its PTSD treatment program.
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