Multiple treatments can be effective in treating Veterans with posttraumatic depression (PTSD). However, things that work for one individual will not work for someone else and demonstrates that a one-size-fits all treatment for PTSD or general mental health will not succeed.

In the same way there is a growing interest among doctors and researchers in using alternative and complementary treatments like exercise to complement traditional mental health services and promote a patients-focused approach to treatment. Veterans suffering from PTSD often use these therapies and frequently find them pleasant.

This is the advice of the Dr. Daniel Reis, a clinical psychologist at the VA Rocky Mountain Mental Illness Research Education and Clinical Center (MIRECC) to help with suicide Prevention. Dr. Reis recently conducted an evaluation of literature to determine the outcomes and the quality of studies that have examined the benefits of exercising for Veterans suffering from PTSD.

Dr. Daniel Reis (Photo by Rachel Warden)

Higher-quality, randomized studies are required

In their review, researchers identified six single-arm trials that had all participants take to participate in an exercise as well as three randomized controlled trials (RCTs) which compared the exercise group with another group. The Veterans who participated in the research have been identified as suffering from PTSD or suffered from PTSD symptoms but hadn’t been given the PTSD diagnosis.

Based on the preliminary findings they concluded that exercising has the potential of reduction in the intensity of PTSD symptoms among Veterans. Reis and his team noticed decreases in four of the primary areas of symptom severity: re-experience avoidance thoughts and arousal. The review also emphasized the need for better RCTs that confirm the benefits of exercise in PTSD and symptom relief in Veterans. The review was published in “Federal Practitioner” in April 2022.

A increasing amount of study’

“The physical benefits of exercise are well-known and there’s a growing evidence-based body of research demonstrating that exercising can help improve mental health, which makes it a perfect opportunity for further research for a treatment that is complementary,” Reis says. “If exercising can help Veterans who suffer from PTSD and other PTSD, it could make a an enormous difference in the way we treat the condition by providing Veterans and their caregivers another option to choose from in conjunction with or in conjunction with other therapies.

“Finally,” he adds, “Veterans with PTSD are more likely to suffer from hypertension which is a major threat factor to cardiovascular diseases–the leading cause of death in U.S.–and responds to exercising. Therefore exercise can be a powerful tool to safeguard the well-being and health of Veterans while simultaneously improving mental and physical health.”

Understanding the complexity of PTSD is among the most pressing issues facing VA. The department states that numerous Veterans who served in Vietnam as well as in the Gulf War, and the post-9/11 conflict within Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered from this mental health problem at some point during their lives.

The symptoms of PTSD are well-documented that include nightmares or flashbacks; avoiding of any recollection of a painful incident; changes in thought and emotions, including guilt and emotional numbing and hyperarousal.

Assessed the risk of bias

Reis and his team started a research to find out whether exercise is effective in treating PTSD among Veterans. The research team has never before combined the available research on exercises’ effects on PTSD in the veteran population. The team of researchers also assessed the possibility of bias in their studies and is usually described as an “quality evaluation.”

The review revealed that yoga is the best exercise method that was used in the research. Yoga classes were based on the practice of breathing, moving and relaxation. “Also several studies took an integrative or trauma-informed approach and modified their yoga classes to be mindful of Veterans their needs and previous memories,” Reis says. “Integrated exercises that mix exercises that are aerobic and strength-based that include yoga, could be promising treatments.”

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