EXERCISE AND PTSD
PTSD is a debilitating and surprisingly common condition. If you’re unaware of what PTSD stands for, it’s the acronym commonly used to describe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. A staggering 800,000 Australians suffer from it, meaning it is the second most common mental health problem in Australia. Below we will explain the potential causes, the most common PTSD symptoms, and how exercise can help to manage the condition and improve the quality of life of those living with it.
What Does PTSD Do to a Person?
PTSD can affect people in a variety of ways and very often sufferers will display the symptoms of many other related mental health problems. As a result of this, PTSD is sometimes hard to diagnose. As it is a complex condition and very often simple questions like ‘How does PTSD make you feel?’ become difficult to answer. Simply put, the symptoms will often differ from person to person.
It’s best first to ask, what is PTSD? As the name suggests, it is a reaction in the brain to deeply traumatic events, which include a serious accident, an occurrence of violence or any other serious or shocking event. Many veterans of warfare suffer from the condition.
People with PTSD will very often have flashbacks and dreams relating to the traumatic event. They can even re-live physical pain experienced at the time. This is known as re-experiencing. The heightened sense of anxiety that many sufferers experience is known as hyper-arousal. People with PTSD can very often feel ‘on edge’, be extremely sensitive and anxious to stimulus, and can be prone to outbursts. The long term effects of this, conversely, can lead to emotional numbing as the brain seeks to ‘switch off’ from the trauma and anxiety.
All of these symptoms combined can trigger a wide range of related mental health problems and place great strain on relationships. There are also physical symptoms that PTSD can cause including headaches, dizziness, chest pains and stomach aches. Studies have shown that PTSD sufferers are more prone to health problems like obesity, heart disease and diabetes, all of which tend to be symptoms of an unhealthy lifestyle.
Whilst it is difficult to say if PTSD itself is curable, exercise can certainly help avoid or reduce many of the related health problems. PTSD is manageable in most cases and there is a deep body of research that indicates, as with many mental health problems, that exercise can play a key role in this.
Can Exercise Help PTSD?
Of course, there are many different approaches doctors and psychologists might take when assessing how to treat PTSD. As with many mental health concerns, sometimes medication is the best option. But how do you treat PTSD naturally?
Countless studies have proven that exercise can have a positive impact on mental health. Regular exercise can have a positive impact on your mental health by reducing anxiety and depression. Getting into the swing of a regular exercise regime can be difficult for sufferers who also experience anxiety and depression, as these conditions can be so demotivating. Having a plan of action for how this will be approached is a great way of keeping on track.
We have mentioned that PTSD can affect physical health, so regular exercise can also prevent obesity, heart disease and diabetes in sufferers of PTSD.
Types of Exercise for PTSD
If you are a sufferer, or you want to know how to help someone with PTSD, a tailored exercise plan could certainly be a positive first step. Approaching this with an understanding of what causes PTSD in the first instance is essential. Exercise can cause bodily reactions that are similar to panic reactions (sweating/heightened heat rate), so many sufferers can find exercise difficult.
For this reason, a relatively low energy workout, such as gentle yoga, is good for PTSD sufferers to begin with. Over time one can work towards slightly more high energy activities. Even if a full work out might trigger unpleasant side effects, a lower energy exercise, such as running does help with PTSD. Of course, this will vary from person to person, and some people will find that more high energy workouts have greater benefits for them.
Studies have shown that after only a 12-week programme of relatively light workouts, involving resistance training and walking, participants showed a significant decrease in PTSD symptoms. The study also concluded that this alleviated symptoms of depression and improved the quality of sleep.
Full Circle Wellness have Accredited Exercise Physiologists who can design an exercise plan that works best for you or the person for whom you are concerned.
Work With the Department of Veterans’ Affairs
The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) provides help and financial support for a wide range of health conditions. They can assist with services ranging right from physiotherapy to counseling and assistance with psychological conditions like PTSD. If you are not covered by your NDIS plan, PTSD is not something you need to struggle with alone.
Here at Full Circle Wellness, we believe that our Veterans deserve respect for their service and support wherever it is necessary. That’s why we work with the DVA to provide affordable health plans and exercise programs tailored to the needs of PTSD sufferers. If you are a Veteran the DVA may be able to fund your Exercise Physiology treatment plan. Please reach out to us for a consultation so we can see if we can help.
Whether you are a Veteran or not, we are confident we will be able to help and support you. Our Exercise Physiologists will design a plan tailored to your specific needs. Contact us to find out how exercise can help manage your condition and help you make real progress towards a better quality of life.
ARE YOU OR A LOVED ONE AFFECTED BY PTSD?
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Sunshine and Cooloola Coasts
Wian van Heerden