PTSD Awareness Month: The Exercise Effect on Mental Health

 

It’s PTSD Awareness Month, and Home Base’s Health & Wellness Team is here to share how exercise can affect your mood, and how it can positively affect symptoms of PTSD combined with other traditional therapies. If you ever wondered why we incorporate exercise and fitness in our core clinical programming at Home Base, here’s Home Base’s Athletic Trainer and Strength & Conditioning Specialist to answer all your questions.


Although PTSD is a psychological health diagnosis, it can actually have a profound impact on physical health and social health factors as well. Every individual that is diagnosed with PTSD will have a different story, however, it is common that there are also signs of reduced physical health, social inclusion, and of course, psychological health. Some of the many symptoms include:

PHYSICALLY

Weight fluctuations (weight gain or loss)
Increased blood pressure
Increased sedentary behaviors
Higher risk of diabetes

SOCIALLY

Increased time spent at home
Avoid catching up with family and friends
Avoidance of busy or noise stimulating areas
Increased time spent away from work

PSYCHOLOGICALLY

Increased anxiety
Depressed mood
Poor sleep hygiene due to night terrors
Increased fear/avoidance associated with certain triggers

Benefits of Exercise on Mind, Body, and Spirit

We all know, and it’s general knowledge, that exercise is good for our health, and there is considerable research indicating that exercise can be of significant benefit in reducing anxiety and depression.  A number of the things that it can do is that it helps improve our heart function. It also helps improve our activities of daily living. Those are things that we do every day, such as combing our hair or brushing our teeth. It just makes those activities easier to do. What it also does, is help improve our physical longevity by reducing our risk of injury and preventing diseases such as heart attacks and diabetes.

Exercise also helps improve our mood. How does exercise help improve our mood? When we exercise our body increases the production of endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals that affect our mood and emotions. They regulate our sleep and they give us more energy. They also help decrease our body composition or body fat. When we decrease our body fat composition or just our body composition, we may have better self-images of ourselves, and am improved sense of self-confidence in ourselves, making us feel happier and accomplished.

For some, exercise is stress relief. It helps you blow off steam from the day. For others, it’s a therapeutic time or it’s relaxing. It’s a form of mindfulness for them. It basically acts as a mindful movement or a moving meditation. What it really does is it helps you focus on the here and now. You’re looking forward to the next rep, the next set, or the next step you have to take, or the next mile you have to take. It takes your mind off the daily stressors that you have, stresses from work, stress from your relationships;  it just helps help you focus on the moment.

How does Exercise Affect PTSD Symptoms?

Now that we know how exercise affects us overall and how it affects our mood, we can now talk about how exercise affects symptoms of PTSD. Based on the best available information from the most reputable sources, we know that exercise and physical activity, when combined with traditional therapies, such as psychotherapy, group therapy, and medication intervention, have antidepressive effects in people with serious mental illnesses. It’s also important to note that the methods to which this research says are the gold standard for exercise. The way they rate that and the way they measure that is through target heart rate ranges and RPE, or ratings of perceived exertion.

When exercising at a target heart rate range based on your maximum heart rate, 65 to 85% of your maximum heart rate is the ideal range that you should be working at or exercising at for somewhere between 30 to 45 minutes. When we’re talking about the ratings of perceived exertion, that could be any rating between one and 10, with one being easy and 10 being the hardest, or if you’re using the gold standard Borg scale, six to 20. You would want to work somewhere between six to eight of your rating of perceived exertion or on the Borg scale, anywhere between 12 and 16 to feel the full effect.

Research also tells us that for people diagnosed with PTSD who exercise, there is has been a direct association with exercise and reduced PTSD symptoms and depressive symptoms, which in turn helped improve sleep quality and overall wellbeing.

Home Base’s Wellness and Fitness Mission for PTSD

One of the programs that we offer for the PTSD at Home Base is an intensive clinical program where we provide about a year and a half’s worth of mental health therapy in the span of two weeks. Typically, Veterans in the program are diagnosed with PTSD or TBI, but they also receive that traditional therapy, so individual psych therapy, group therapy, and medication intervention, as well as fitness and nutrition education.

Our Warrior Health & Fitness Program is offered to local veterans and their family members, in New England, and in Southwest Florida. We provide mental skills coaching from our mental skills coach, individual nutrition consults from our registered dieticians, and injury prevention from our athletic trainers. But what these two programs have in common is exercise, and it’s important because of the research that I just provided. Exercise helps improve mood, it helps improve your energy, helps improve sleep, self-confidence, body image. It helps improve all those things, which help facilitate healing in other areas.

In the Warrior Health and Fitness program, you don’t have to have a diagnosis of PTSD or any other mental illness, but this program opens the door to other services that Home Base offers that veterans might not be aware of. Maybe they don’t need support, but maybe a family member does, and that’s why we include exercise in both of these programs.

There are a few things I want you to remember for PTSD Awareness Month.

Exercise should not be the sole treatment for PTSD or any other mental illness. However, exercise is a fantastic supplement when combined with other evidence-based psychiatric treatments.

Exercise is not for everyone and it may not be for you, and that’s okay. What our goal is at Home Base is that you try to exercise. You try something that you enjoy doing, whether that’s just walking more than you do normally, whether that’s running, whether that’s weight training. We want you to try something and see if it sticks. If it doesn’t, that’s okay.


If you or someone you know is living with PTSD and wants some help to start exercising, contact the Home Base team at 617-724-5202 or homebase.org/connect2care. Our team of Athletic Trainers, Exercise Physiologists, Mental Skills Coaches, and Strength & Conditioning Specialists can help with goal setting and will prescribe exercises that are safe and tailored to your individual needs.