Depression and PTSD Linked to Sedentary Lifestyle among College Students

Lauren A. Rutter of the VA Boston Healthcare System recently led a study to determine the relationship between post-traumatic stress (PTSD), depression, health and exercise in a sampling of college students. “Depression is an episodic illness characterized by low mood and loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable. Depression has also been consistently linked to a broad array of health conditions related to cardiovascular health,” said Rutter. She noted that individuals with depression often report engaging in little physical exercise, a behavior that is known to relieve symptoms of depression. Because of this link, Rutter’s team wanted to identify how physical exercise influenced depressive symptoms and PTSD.

The team enlisted 200 college students from an undergraduate psychology program and assessed them for levels of PTSD using the Traumatic Life Events Questionnaire (TLEQ), the PTSD Checklist. They relied on the Beck Depression Inventory II and the Health Risk Appraisal to measure levels of depression and overall health. The Cohen-Hoberman Inventory of Physical Symptoms was used to evaluate negative physical health conditions in the students and recorded how often they engaged in regular physical exercise. They assessed the type of trauma experienced by the students according to level of distress. They found that most of the reported trauma was the result of the death of a loved one, followed by witnessing or experiencing an assault or traumatic event such as domestic violence.

The researchers discovered that the participants with negative physical health reported the highest levels of PTSD and depression. Additionally, that group also engaged in less physical activity. The team believes social support, which can encourage healthy choices, may lead to increased exercise and in turn better physical and mental health. The researchers added, “People experiencing symptoms of PTSD and depression may also have difficulty maintaining relationships and thus have decreased social support, a factor that has been shown to be related to health.”

Rutter, L. A., Weatherill, R. P., Krill, S. C., Orazem, R., & Taft, C. T. (2011, March 28). Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms, Depressive Symptoms, Exercise, and Health in College Students. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0021996

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Milly


    September 24th, 2011 at 6:42 AM

    Sounds like getting moving is going to be a key factor in curing depression and PTSD. But the trick is getting a society that is already so prone to being sedentary and lazy to actually get up and do something. We have all become so accustomed to a lifestyle that tells us that it is ok to do nothing, that is what we do. And in many ways our collective health is really paying the price.

  • gretchen Silmen

    gretchen Silmen

    September 24th, 2011 at 7:12 PM

    On a bad day, I’ll sit at home and do absolutely nothing and those are the only days where I feel moderately disappointed in my life. Sometimes I feel like crying, for reasons I can’t explain. This studies findings are a great representation of how I feel. Take a guess when I fell happiest. Not when I’m on vacation or something but when I’ve gone out and done stuff all day. Running, walking, traveling are my depressant antidote. Just try to go out for a day and running from place to place, if you’re moderately athletic you’ll really feel great about yourself. It’s nice to see that I’m not the only one who feels this way.

  • Heather


    September 24th, 2011 at 11:43 PM

    Physical exercise is important in so many ways! But not tok many people really pay attention to it. We need to cultivate the habit and also encourage it as a society. Many disorders and even mental health issues can then be prevented and we will be more healthier as a society!

  • Hanna


    September 25th, 2011 at 5:23 AM

    I remember being so sad and depressed my first semester in school.
    I kept thinking that this should be the ebst time of my life and I was hating every single minute of it!
    The sadder I got the more withdrawn that I got and when you get to that state it is hard to even come out of your room at all.

  • XS


    September 26th, 2011 at 8:57 AM

    Nature has therapeutic effects that can really open one’s mind and provide an outlet like no other…There is so much calm and mental peace in just observing nature..The modern sedentary lifestyle goes completely against this and this is quite a reason for the problems..Would be great if we can all develop a habit of nature-time in our daily schedule.

  • Fergal Cash

    Fergal Cash

    September 26th, 2011 at 6:19 PM

    Well yes, a sedentary life that accomplishes little is a major cause and contributor of depression as studies dating back to the 80’s, even the 70’s have shown. Stagnating is going to lower your expectations of life and you’ll have absolutely no reason to look forward to the next days and the things you can accomplish. You have to get off the sofa to make that first step towards health.

  • fionasimpson


    September 26th, 2011 at 6:48 PM

    There isn’t a shortage of activities you can do in college at all, so why are they being couch potatoes instead of socializing? Go out and party for once in your life, make some friends, find a hobby-any of those things will be enough to make you feel a lot better about yourself. There’s millions of groups you can join.

  • Hayden Fry

    Hayden Fry

    September 26th, 2011 at 8:09 PM

    @fiona–You weren’t in college were you? In college, you have three things to deal with: sleep, classes, and social life. You get to decide which two matter. Which ones do you pick? Ignore classes? You’re missing the point of college. Ignore friends? You’ll end up depressed and lonely. Ignore sleep? We all know what ignoring sleep does.

    You need to structure your time very carefully if you’ve any hope of graduating. If you don’t care about that, party on dude!

  • Doreen James

    Doreen James

    September 27th, 2011 at 11:15 AM

    Isolation isn’t good for anyone. If you can’t find a group that suits you, why not start one or instead create a support group for whatever’s holding you back? Not everybody wants to be out partying every night.

    I’d bet you’d not be the only student in the college that would be interested in your support group. There’s a degree of socializing involved in that too. Find your college’s counseling center and ask what’s available currently and what’s possible.

  • Haley Crystal

    Haley Crystal

    September 28th, 2011 at 8:55 PM

    @Doreen James: Speaking of support, ever heard of an organization called Active Minds? It was created by a young woman after her brother committed suicide and aims to involve campuses and their students in more open discussion and advocacy of mental health issues. Their work has won many awards and there are hundreds of student-run chapters all over America.

    From their About Us page on their website: “By developing and supporting chapters of a student-run mental health awareness, education, and advocacy group on campuses, the organization works to increase students’ awareness of mental health issues, provide information and resources regarding mental health and mental illness, encourage students to seek help as soon as it is needed, and serve as liaison between students and the mental health community.

    Through campus-wide events and national programs, Active Minds aims to remove the stigma that surrounds mental health issues, and create a comfortable environment for an open conversation about mental health issues on campuses throughout North America.”

    Starting a new chapter of Active Minds on campus is worth considering. At the very least informing your college’s counselor about them is a good move. Encourage them to read the Start a New Chapter section at the Active Minds website to see all the support that offered in getting it off the ground and thereafter.

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