How sport and exercise can help during and following treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

David Murtagh BSc MSc, Senior Occupational Therapist at Combat Stress

At Combat Stress we recognise the importance of exercise in the recovery and relapse prevention during and following treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In the same way that physical exercise is important during basic training it is critical during the period of post deployment and in dealing with the aftermath of a traumatic event. Exercise and nutritional behaviours can help enhance resilience.

We regularly discuss Post Traumatic Growth and this is something that everyone who has played a part in the armed forces can engage with. This is about growing from adversity and learning new skills and achieving new goals. This is regularly demonstrated at the Invictus Games where we see ex-military personnel with both physical and mental health issues go beyond recovery and are now operating/functioning on a higher level. In occupational therapy at Combat Stress we encourage veterans to seize opportunities, develop existing skills/strengths or to explore new skills. We encourage veterans to use these skills to the best of their ability and beyond to help their recovery and enable the individual to thrive.

Exercise can help and support those with PTSD to adapt thought processes. It can help with thinking more positively. Many people with PTSD will have a survival response and will be hyper-vigilant/alert as adrenalin is often produced as a response to a perceived threat. This can leave a veteran feeling restless that will impact on mood and sleep. Exercising is a productive way to use the adrenalin in positive way and therefore can promote relaxation, sleep and by releasing chemicals in the brain it can improve your mood. Exercise is the first line of defence against depression.

It is important for us all to engage in health promoting activities. Being active and exercising regularly has been found to have an impact on other areas of life such as reduced smoking, alcohol, caffeine and junk food consumption. It is always good to have success stories to reflect on to give us all hope and to inspire us to make positive changes in life. The Invictus Games remind us that through adversity we can all achieve with the right support and the will and determination. Regardless of perceived physical and mental health limitation the boundaries can be pushed and goals can be achieved. Remember not to wait until the goal has been achieved to celebrate, instead celebrate every step towards that goal.

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