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PTSD and Exercise

PTSD and Exercise

17 September 2021

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a prominent mental health issue for military veterans. It is commonly distinguished by a set of reactions that can develop in people who have been exposed to a traumatic event or series of events in their life.

These reactions are broken into 4 categories:

Heightened awareness and constantly on the look-out for danger.

Reliving traumatic events through memories and dreams, both of which are vivid and can feel very real.

Avoiding places and activities that could trigger reliving and alertness.

Losing interest in things that may have previously bought joy or pleasure.

This is not an exhaustive list, but briefly touches on a few key reactions people with PTSD may experience. Symptoms vary from person to person and can change over time or from situation to situation. There is no right or wrong reaction and no normal timeline for PTSD to lessen or dissipate.

Depression and anxiety also go hand in hand with PTSD. In fact, more than 80% of veterans diagnosed with PTSD have both anxiety and depression. With this in mind, it is important to understand how to combat all three diagnoses when treating PTSD.

According to a systematic review by Whitworth and Ciccolo (2016), exercise has more of a positive impact on depression than anti-depressants, with none of the side-effects. This, however, is not to say you should go against recommendations of your psychiatrist, but that exercise can be a very effective alongside treatment.

Treating PTSD with exercise

According to research by Vancampfort et al (2016), people with PTSD are more likely to be physically inactive than the general population, as well as experience a 2-3x higher mortality rate. Meaning people with PTSD are dying much younger and more often than those without. Therefore, it is important that we look after ourselves and seek out methods of self-care to help maintain good health.

Physical activity significantly decreases symptoms of PTSD in Defence Force personnel. This is a fact that is supported by a systematic review by Rosenbaum et al (2015).

Regular exercise can:

  • Decrease symptoms of PTSD,
  • Decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety,
  • Increase cardiovascular health and longevity,
  • Decrease mortality, and
  • Increase quality of life.

Exercise Physiologists (EP) are trained in understanding and managing symptoms of PTSD and assisting with developing programs to suit an individual’s needs. Mates4Mates are here to provide you with a safe environment to engage in exercise. If you want to get started on an exercise program, get in touch with one of our experienced EP’s. 


Written by Exercise Physiologist Harley Fox.



  1. James W. Whitworth, MA, Joseph T. Ciccolo, PhD, Exercise and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Military Veterans: A Systematic Review, Military Medicine, Volume 181, Issue 9, September 2016, Pages 953–960,
  2. Rosenbaum S, Vancampfort D, Steel Z, Newby J, Ward PB, Stubbs B. Physical activity in the treatment of Post-traumatic stress disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychiatry Res. 2015 Dec 15;230(2):130-6. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2015.10.017. Epub 2015 Oct 20. PMID: 26500072.
  3. Vancampfort, D., Richards, J., Stubbs, B., Akello, G., Gbiri, C. A., Ward, P. B., & Rosenbaum, S. (2016). Physical Activity in People With Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Systematic Review of Correlates, Journal of Physical Activity and Health13(8), 910-918. Retrieved Sep 6, 2021, from
  • Physical health and wellbeing

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