Resistance training can help reduce anxiety and improve sleep for those with PTSD

High-intensity resistance training can improve sleep quality and anxiety in adults with post-traumatic stress disorder, a new study suggests.

The research, published in Mental Health and Physical Activity, is based on a study of 22 people who had suffered at least one traumatic event and been screened positive for PTSD.

They were put into one of two groups: a three-week resistance training group or a three-week control group. The first completed three, 30-minute high–intensity exercise sessions per week, while the control group completed three, 30-minute sessions of learning about topics unrelated to exercise or PTSD.

While the reductions in PTSD symptoms were similar in both groups, the research team, led by James Whitworth at the Boston University School of Medicine, found that those in the resistance training group had greater reductions in anxiety symptoms and improvements in sleep quality compared to the control group.

Whitworth said: “I’ve always enjoyed being physically active, but my interest in exercise for mental health and related issues (e.g., poor sleep quality) stems from my military days.

“When I was deployed to Iraq, my battle buddies and I would exercise to blow off steam and deal with the stressors of combat. It worked for us at the time and years later those experiences served as the impetus for my line research.

“Perhaps the two biggest things I’d like people to take from our study is, first, resistance training (e.g., weightlifting or strength training) — even high-intensity resistance training — appears to be a safe mode of exercise for individuals who likely have PTSD. This is consistent with the results of studies examining aerobic exercise and PTSD,” Whitworth told the PsyPost publication.

“The second main takeaway would be that in addition to being safe, the evidence suggests that participating in high-intensity resistance training may also improve sleep quality and reduce anxiety in individuals who likely have PTSD. This is particularly compelling and has clinical value because poor sleep quality is one of the most common and difficult to treat problems reported by individuals with PTSD.”

It is accepted that more research was needed to confirm the early findings.

The study can be found here.