Using Exercise to Manage PTSD

Using Exercise to Manage PTSD

By Guardian Exercise Rehabilitation

We are excited to be sponsoring the 2023 Frontline Mental Health Conference. Guardian Exercise Rehabilitation is strongly aligned with the theme of this year's conference: to 'Improve the Mental Health and Wellbeing of First Responders'. Particularly in recent years, we have become industry-leaders in delivering rehabilitative exercise programs to those experiencing mental illness - including working closely with emergency service personnel. We are honoured to assist these individuals who give so much to our communities.

In this blog post, we look at how exercise can help with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

There is significant evidence around the benefits of exercise for both physical and mental health. As Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is becoming more openly accepted and diagnosed, the positive effect that exercise can have on those with PTSD is also gaining increased recognition.

Exactly how can exercise help with my PTSD?

We know that PTSD affects everyone in different ways, and similarly, people respond differently to medications and psychology treatments. When it comes to exercise, exactly what promotes the positive benefits for PTSD can be best described as multi-modal – meaning several positive aspects are likely contributing together. Below is a list of some of the benefits of exercise, that can then positively impact PTSD symptoms;

  • Improve mood in the short and long term
  • Reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • Improve sleep quality
  • Maintain routine and structure
  • Reduce alcohol dependence
  • Improve cognitive function
  • Reduce avoidance behaviours
  • Reduce the likelihood of developing secondary physical health conditions
  • Increase community connectedness
  • Improvements in outcomes when couple with other treatments

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Where to start with exercise?

If we account for the reductions in motivation, increased tendency to self-isolate, and low energy levels that are often experienced with PTSD, exercising can understandably seem like a daunting task. Here are a few pieces of advice that can help to make those first few steps or reps a bit easier.

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  • Try to find a type of physical activity that you enjoy, or used to enjoy. Lots of research has gone into finding the most effective form of exercise for mental health, and as a result, we now know that regardless of whether you prefer something ‘light’ like yoga, or more intense like running, you will likely experience a positive response.
  • A little is better than none, and more is better than less. Developing a habit of exercising regularly takes time, and while the general guidelines suggest 150 minutes per week, you may need to build up to this level. Starting with 10 minutes every other day is better than nothing and can help get the ball rolling.
  • Seek assistance from exercise professionals, family and friends. Research has shown that exercise is completed more regularly and is more effective in improving psychological symptoms when a qualified exercise professional is providing support, assisting with setting goals, and delivering supervised exercise programs. Friends and family can also play an important role in increasing motivation and enjoyment with exercise.

For more great resources on mental health and exercise, visit the Mental Health Hub on our website.

Mental Health Guidebook iPad Pro Mockup 


McKeon G et al (2021). A Mental Health–Informed Physical Activity Intervention for First Responders and Their Partners Delivered Using Facebook: Mixed Methods Pilot Study. JMIR Form Res.

Firth, J et al. (2016). Motivating factors and barriers towards exercise in severe mental illness: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychological medicine.


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