Naval Health Research Center News Release

NHRC Researchers Report Physical Activity is Associated with Decreased PTSD Symptoms

New study results recently reported in May/June issue of Public Health Reports reveal important associations between the development of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and physical activity levels among U.S. service members.

“Service members self reported their level of daily physical activity including performance of vigorous physical activity in a survey conducted by the Naval Health Research Center Millennium Cohort Study team” said Dr. Nancy Crum-Cianflone, Principal Investigator of the Millennium Cohort Study and Department Head of the Deployment Health Research Department. “More than 38,000 survey participants from all branches of the service were evaluated over time for the development of symptoms suggestive of PTSD, a signature health condition among many military personnel returning from deployment to the current conflicts.”

The study found that service members engaging in physical activity, especially vigorous exercise, were less likely to develop PTSD, even after taking into consideration military experiences such as deployment and combat exposures.

According to Dr. Crum-Cianflone, the study participants who reported at least 20 minutes of vigorous physical activity twice weekly showed a 40 percent decrease in PTSD symptoms. Those engaging in even higher exercise levels were less likely to experience persistent symptoms of PTSD, such as hypervigilance, nightmares, and irritability.

“These data provide critical information to potentially reduce PTSD among service members. While further research is needed, our current results indicate that physical activity may be important in the prevention of PTSD among service members,” said Dr. Crum-Cianflone. “More than fifty percent of Millennium Cohort Study participants have deployed in support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and their continued contributions to the study enable investigators to evaluate detailed data from before, during, and after deployments.”

The NHRC Millennium Cohort Study is the largest prospective military health study in the United States and captures data on service members from all of the military branches. The Millennium Cohort Study was initiated in 2001 by the Department of Defense (DoD) to address health concerns of military members about deployment and other potential service-related experience and currently have over 180,000 enrolled participants.

“The Millennium Cohort Study provides critical information toward understanding the long-term health of military members, contributing to force health protection, a DoD priority,” said Dr. Crum-Cianflone.

The Naval Health Research Center in San Diego conducts research in the medical and psychological aspects of health and performance among military personnel. For more information on NHRC and the Millennium Cohort Study visit http://www.med.navy.mil/SITES/NHRC.