It has often been said that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the hallmark of the post 9-11 war conflicts. With an estimated 83% of service members returning from deployment forever scarred with invisible wounds, PTSD is an epidemic affecting hundreds of thousands of our nation’s heroes. Debilitating symptoms include, but are not limited to, recurring memories or nightmares, sleeplessness, loss of interest, and feelings of numbness, anger or irritability, or being constantly on guard. These symptoms can be exacerbated by loneliness, when left untreated, and when coupled with comorbid mental health diagnosis (such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs)). Often, due to the stigma surrounding mental health diagnosis and receiving treatment, service members avoid therapy and professional help upon exiting the military. For veterans, immersion into the civilian world can be a very confusing and isolating time whether or not they suffer from PTSD. However, combining the aforementioned catalysts and the stark transition from military to civilian life, this change can leave those suffering from PTSD in a dark and dangerous mental state.
Research has found that exercise is highly effective in acting as an effective means of intervention to alleviate and minimize distressing PTSD symptoms. Empirical evidence collected from a myriad of recent research studies have found that exercise can have a positive impact on calming the nervous system and internal arousal cues, enhancing cognitive function, building neuroplasticity, regulating the hypothalamic pituitary axis (HPA) functions, and lead to an improved overall mood, well-being, and PTSD symptom reduction. What's more, is that when physical exercise is performed in groups, it can also provide a new sense of community and belonging to service members who were otherwise left feeling alone post-service. This is why encouraging participation in a gym membership is so important; it gives the veteran a way to take control of and overcome their PTSD to manage and heal from the symptoms.
Presently, the fitness facilities on military bases or at VA hospitals are not accessible to all veterans; only those on active duty, national guard, or reserve status, enrolled in physical therapy, or retirees and their dependents may access these accommodations freely. We need a better strategy for providing veterans with gym access to not only improve their physical health, but their mental health as well.
About Dr. Chloe Wisdom
Dr. Chloe Wisdom has a Master's and Doctorate degree from the University of Southern California, specializing in Military Social Work and Change Innovation and Leadership Management. She is also an Army Veteran and DOD Contractor who has served 4 tours in Afghanistan. Additionally, Chloe is heavily involved in fitness herself, competes in fitness competitions in her spare time, and has also written a book called, "Bad Fitness Advice." Recently, she began competing in Pageants as well and holds the title of Ms. Missouri Petite. This coming August, she will compete at National's for the Ms. USA Petite title in August 2022.