Ian’s Story: the benefits of exercise therapy for PTSD

“I read somewhere that long lasting stress on the body such as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) can lead to secondary conditions such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal aches and pains, anxiety, depression, obesity and an increased risk of diabetes.

Has my GP spilled the beans on me?

You see 50 years ago I was an infantry soldier in the Vietnam War. During the 12 months and three weeks I was in-country, I completed 318 operational days in the mountains, jungle and mangrove swamps of Phuoc Tuy Province with 2RAR (2nd Battalion The Royal Australian Regiment) where I patrolled through the ‘J’ as we called it, on my elbows and knees with a bayonet in my mouth.

So how do war veterans treat PTSD? EASY.

We self-medicate with stuff our GP gives us plus the stuff the GP tells us to avoid. After a couple of decades, you finally admit the truth – it doesn’t work. Along the way you have not only wrecked your body, but also your family; and you withdraw from life seeking refuge in your recliner.

Does an Exercise Facility help blokes with PTSD?

The answer is an emphatic, NO!

What does help is if you swallow your pride, struggle out of the recliner, take your aching fat gutted body outside and limp down to the Health Facility; and enroll in an exercise program.

They say that an exercise program not only helps with your health, but it also improves your mental well-being because you make new friends with others in the same boat.”


So What Exactly is Post -Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a particular set of reactions that can develop in people who have been through a traumatic event which threatened their life or safety, or that of others around them.” – Beyond Blue

Did you know that between 5 and 10 percent of the general population will develop PTSD in their lifetime? Higher rates of PTSD (up to 50%) are seen in survivors of intentional acts of violence or prolonged/repeated events. Among children and adolescents who have been exposed to trauma, approximately 1/3 of this age group is expected to develop PTSD.

Symptoms of PTSD
Intrusive memories, avoidance behaviours, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions are all symptoms associated with PTSD. These symptoms can be quite debilitating without receiving effective treatment.

People with PTSD often experience being overly alert which can cause elevated levels of continual stress. This is also known as the “flight or fight” response.


Long-lasting stress on the body can lead to secondary conditions such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal aches, depression, obesity, and increased risk of diabetes. These conditions can be developed by lifestyle habits which often hinder the recovery process and can worse PTSD-related symptoms. Some common lifestyle factors include: sedentary behaviour, diet, sleeping habit, smoking and alcohol abuse.

So how can exercise help?

  • Stress management
  • Reduced alcohol dependence
  • Improved sleep quality
  • Reduced risk of developing heart disease and diabetes
  • Improved mood

Exercise is a core component in managing stress and reducing levels of alertness for those with PTSD. Some beneficial exercises include: aerobic exercise, controlled breathing exercises and stretching. Exercise also provides the opportunity to increase your social support via meeting new people through exercise or catching up with an old friend to go for a walk.

It is important to find what exercise activities you enjoy as this in turn will help combat stress levels. It can be as simple as tending to your garden. Setting a time each day to perform these physical activities you enjoy, is a great strategy to manage your stress levels.

Exercise Physiologists have experience working with those who have PTSD and its associated conditions. Through implementing structured exercise interventions and behaviour change strategies, this will help aid in lowering PTSD symptoms and improving quality of life.

Please feel free to contact us here at Activate Health if you would like any assistance with getting started.

Emma Ellis,

Accredited Exercise Physiologist


< Back to News