Why Veterans Should Be Continuing To Exercise

Veterans hold a close place in my heart; helping them recover from what we can never imagine seeing or experiencing like they have is my number one goal. I live with my stepdad, who is a purple heart veteran, and I’ve seen the highs as well as the lows of what coming back from war can look like.

Mike Stuart

What is PTSD?

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, or other violent personal assault.

PTSD doesn’t just happen to combat veterans. PTSD can occur in all people of any ethnicity, nationality or culture, and any age. PTSD affects approximately 3.5 percent of U.S. adults, and an estimated one in 11 people will be diagnosed PTSD in their lifetime.

People with PTSD can have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their experience that may last long after the traumatic event has ended. They may relive the event through flashbacks or nightmares; they may feel sadness, fear or anger; and they may feel detached or estranged from other people. People with PTSD may avoid situations or people that remind them of the traumatic event, and they may have strong negative reactions to something as ordinary as a loud noise or an accidental touch.

 

Why Exercise Is Challenging At First

First, exercise can increase bodily arousal. Your heart might race. You may experience shortness of breath. Although most people don’t think twice about these symptoms, if you have PTSD, you may be particularly hesitant to experience this arousal. Many people with PTSD fear bodily symptoms that are associated with anxiety, such as increased heart rate and shortness of breath. These symptoms in particular tend to occur during high intensity physical activity. As a result, they may try to avoid exercise or any other activity that increases bodily arousal.

In addition, PTSD is associated with a higher risk of experiencing depression. When you’re depressed, you may experience low motivation, low energy, and have a tendency to isolate yourself. Given this, it’s possible that if you have symptoms of depression along with your PTSD, this might prevent you from exercising.

Finally, people with PTSD engage in more unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking and alcohol use. These behaviors may make it more difficult for someone with PTSD to start an exercise program.

 

Why This Is Important

There’s a story that’s been unfolding over the years about how veterans are healing from the physical and psychological damage of war. Or rather, starting a new chapter in an older story. The discovery of physical exercise post-war was once stimulated by the need, as well as the desire, to rehabilitate wounded servicemen. Evidence has suggested over the years that it has many rehabilitative benefits. Today, the use of exercise as well as other pursuits, is expanding as a means of supporting veterans.

Whether or not you have PTSD, regular exercise has a number of benefits. It can contribute to many positive physical health outcomes, such as improved cardiovascular health, weight loss, and greater flexibility and mobility. In addition to these physical health outcomes, regular exercise can also have a positive impact on your mental health by helping reduce anxiety and depression. Given the benefits of exercise, as well as the numerous mental and physical health problems experienced by people with PTSD, a regular exercise regimen may have a number of advantages for you.

Veterans hold a close place in my heart; helping them recover from what we can never imagine seeing or experiencing like they have is my number one goal. I live with my stepdad, who is a purple heart veteran, and I’ve seen the highs as well as the lows of what coming back from war can look like. Everyday civilians like you and me can’t begin to comprehend what these soldiers had to see or endure for months at a time. My number one goal here is to help them not necessarily forget, but to help these individuals move on to a better place in their lives and help them heal. I want them to go about their lives feeling confident and not having them doubt whether they’re capable of doing something. If the best part of their day is coming in and exerting some energy by slamming medicine balls on the ground, or pushing a 325lb weight sled from one end of the gym to the other, than I know I’m helping make a difference in their recovery process.

-Sydney

 

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