Exercise for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

There is significant evidence about the benefits of exercise for both physical and mental health. As Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) becomes more recognised and diagnosed, our understanding of the effects of exercise on this condition is expanding – and creating a positive therapeutic option for people with PTSD.

The symptoms of PTSD can have prolonged negative effects, accompanied by co-morbidities such as anxiety, depression, and other health conditions (Whitworth & Ciccolo, 2016). Exercise has been shown to positively impact psychological health by enhancing cognitive function such as memory and learning, regulating sleep patterns, improving mood, and potentially reducing all PTSD symptoms (Motta, 2018).

In a study completed by Rosenbaun (2015), they investigated the impact of a 12-week exercise program in conjunction with psychology, medication, and group therapy. The participants completed 30 minutes of resistance training three times per week and were given a pedometer to encourage increased movement on alternate days. The result of the study showed a reduction in PTSD and depressive symptoms, reduction in waist circumference, and improved sleep quality.

Effects of aerobic exercise

There is also increasing evidence around the effects of an aerobic exercise routine on the symptoms of PTSD by increasing blood flow to the brain and raising body temperature. It is hypothesised that an increase in temperature targets areas of the brain that produce a “tranquilising effect”, as well as a reduction in muscle tension (Motta, 2018).

As avoidance can be one of the main issues affecting those with PTSD (Motta, 2018), avoiding previously enjoyed physical activity and therefore living a more sedentary lifestyle is not uncommon. This means having appropriate support in returning to an exercise routine, or even in starting one for the first time, is extremely important for individuals with PTSD.  The role that exercise plays in this situation can be varied and it’s often noted that enjoyment of the chosen physical activity is essential in maintaining motivation and establishing a routine.


Motta, R. (2018, November 5). The Role of Exercise in Reducing PTSD and Negative Emotional States.

Rosenbaum, S. (2015, May 1). Exercise augmentation compared with usual care for post-traumatic stress disorder: a randomized controlled trial.

Whitworth, J. W., & Ciccolo, J. T. (2016, September 1). Exercise and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Military Veterans: A Systematic Review.

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