Testing the role of aerobic exercise in the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms in U.S. active duty military personnel: A pilot study.

Young-McCaughan, S., Peterson, A. L., Mintz, J., Hale, W. J., Dondanville, K. A., Borah, E. V., Blount, T. H., Blankenship, A. E., Fina, B. A., Hall-Clark, B. N., Hernandez, A. M., Jacoby, V. M., Malach, S. L., Williams, J. M., Compton, K. E., Bingham, M. O., Vriend, C. A., Inman, A. W., Brundige, A., Arzola, S. M., Lapiz-Bluhm, M. D., Williamson, D. E., Litz, B. T., Hembree, E. A., Roache, J. D., Taylor, D. J., Pruiksma, K. E., Borah, A. M., & Yarvis, J. S., for the STRONG STAR Consortium.
Apr 1, 2022

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, 51(4), 309-325. 

The purpose of this pilot study was to determine if the efficacy of imaginal exposure for symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) could be improved by adding aerobic exercise. We hypothesized that aerobic exercise would enhance the efficacy of exposure therapy. Active duty service members with clinically significant symptoms of posttraumatic stress (PTSD Checklist—Stressor-Specific Version, [PCL-S], = 25) were randomized into one of four conditions: exercise only; imaginal exposure only; imaginal exposure plus exercise; no exercise/no exposure therapy (control). Participants (N = 72) were primarily male, Army, noncommissioned officers ranging in age from 22 to 52. PTSD symptom severity decreased over time (p < .0001); however, there were no significant differences between the experimental conditions. The prediction that imaginal exposure augmented with aerobic exercise would be superior to either imaginal exposure alone or aerobic exercise alone was not supported, suggesting that engaging in exercise and imaginal exposure simultaneously may not be any better than engaging in either activity alone. A better understanding of individually administered and combined exercise and exposure therapy interventions for PTSD is warranted.