Because physical health and exercise has been linked to mental health, researchers at the VA Boston Healthcare System, Boston, Massachusetts, Boston University School of Medicine and Minneapolis VA Medical Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, collaborated on a study to examine this relationship closer. “Numerous studies have shown that exercise is associated with improved psychological well-being, health, and life satisfaction,” said the team. They enrolled 200 college students and assessed them for symptoms of trauma and depression using the Traumatic Life Events Questionnaire and the Beck Depression Inventory II. They were asked to recall their most traumatic life experience and describe the level of symptoms that they had experienced over the previous four weeks. Symptoms were categorized in clusters, including avoidance and emotional numbing, re-experiencing through memories or thoughts, and hyper-arousal or being easily startled. They also gauged the functional health of each participant, and their level of physical activity using the Health Risk Appraisal.
Their examination revealed a strong connection between physical activity and psychological symptoms. “PTSD symptoms and depressive symptoms were both associated with poorer physical and functional health at the bivariate level and uniquely when examined together as predictors,” said the researchers. “The pattern of results was also consistent with the expectation that exercise would serve as a pathway through which these mental health difficulties would be associated with poorer health.” The team emphasized the importance of physical activity to all levels of health, and yet are unclear as to whether the participants’ physical activity decreased as a result of the psychological symptoms, or if the increased symptoms were due in part to sedentary lifestyles. The researchers also discovered symptoms of hyper-arousal, avoidance and numbing were most closely linked to negative health and lack of exercise. They concluded by adding, “Given the high comorbidity of PTSD and depressive symptoms, this research suggests that both should be considered when examining health symptoms.”
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 Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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