Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an issue that many people are facing and it seems to only be getting more and more prevalent. PTSD is caused by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, and risk of PTSD can be increased by factors such as a lack of social support, or having a biological predisposition to anxiety or depression. Complications from PTSD can lead to anxiety, drugs or alcohol abuse, and suicidal thoughts or actions. In April 2014, psychologists Mathew Fetzner and Gordon Asmundson sought to find out if increased aerobic exercise can lead to a decrease in PTSD symptoms.
Research has indicated that aerobic exercise can provide mental health benefits to individuals suffering from anxiety disorders, however, no extensive studies have been conducted on the effect of aerobic exercise on PTSD. The research psychologists hypothesized that aerobic exercise can reduce the signs and symptoms of PTSD. All participants rode a stationary bicycle for six twenty-minute sessions in two weeks, followed by a cool down, and completing outcome measures.
Nine data points were kept, one for initial analysis, six for every post-workout, one at a one-week follow-up, and one for a one-month follow-up. The researchers separated the participants into three groups; one control, and two experimental.
One group was distracted from the exercise by a nature documentary. The goal of the second was to increase attention to somatic sensations brought on by exercise (tension in legs, shortness of breath, etc.). The third was a control group, where there were no distractions. The independent variable here is the number of sessions, while the dependent variable is the score on certain scales used to measure the severity of PTSD symptoms.
The result was that the hypothesis was verified and that aerobic exercise does reduce the symptoms of PTSD. However, there are some threats to internal validity. The social desirability bias comes into play here, because participants could want to come off as less affected by PTSD and therefore give an answer that would reflect that. Additionally, the journal states that exercise protocols were not standardized to ensure a constant exercise routine. The only guidance given is that the participant cannot exercise more than three times a week, therefore allowing room for error and variation between participants. According to the Performance Objective from Lesson 26, there is a strong correlation between stress and psychological and physical well-being. To summarize, multiple studies have been done to validate the fact that high levels of stress, including posttraumatic stress, can take a physical toll on the body. Obviously, stress can lead to psychological disorders such as anxiety or depression.
In addition to that, stress leads to a breakdown of the immune system and a decrease in antibodies produced. This makes the body more susceptible to infections. This relates to the research, as the increase of aerobic exercise leads to lessened PTSD symptoms, which would certainly lead to a decrease in the risk of illness in those affected with PTSD. One can draw the conclusion that the participants in this experiment were less susceptible to psychological and physical illness. As a platoon leader in a combat unit, I could very realistically deal with soldiers who are dealing with posttraumatic stress, either from combat, or possibly from a previous traumatic event. The research done in this journal article proves that aerobic exercise can be very beneficial to alleviating some symptoms of PTSD. A primary responsibility of a leader of any size or type of unit is to look out for the well-being of his or her subordinates.
By doing so, he or she fosters a sense of caring and family, therefore increasing cohesion and unit potential. For example, I am a platoon leader in a cavalry platoon and we have been deployed for a few months. There have been several major negative events since we have arrived, and some Soldiers are starting to show signs of posttraumatic stress. As a platoon leader and educated officer, I know that psychological distress can lead to illness, which would lead to a weaker body and therefore a much less effective fighting force. To counter this, I would use the knowledge gained from this study to implement a moderate workout routine of cardio exercise such as running or conducting an obstacle course run. Therefore, by using knowledge gained from the Performance Objective and the journal article, I could make an effective decision to alleviate some of the stresses of combat by using physical training to the advantage of my platoon and I.