Fitness to Overcome Extreme Mental Stress

By: Commander Louie Greek, US Army

As everyone is out celebrating this weekend with BBQs, boat trips and picnics, I reflect on the meaning of Memorial Day. I think of all the brave men and women who have served this country keeping it a safe place for loved ones to enjoy the weekend. I think of all those who gave the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives’ for our freedoms. But, what comes to mind next is a sacrifice that men and women who served often experience but is rarely ever seen. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. People can often see the scars and the physical injuries from but not know the hidden ones. The emotional and mental injuries that exist due to the experiences of war.

Common symptoms of PTSD are difficulty in falling or staying asleep. Irritability or outburst of anger. Difficulty in concentrating. Hyper-vigilance or exaggerated startle response. Those with PTSD often feel isolated and alone. They relive that traumatic event over and over in their head. What I then realized was how so many men and women who suffer from PTSD use fitness as cure or medication. In the military fitness is a top priority. The military for hundreds of years has imposed fitness training to develop the strongest and most capable fighting force. We all know that working out and living a healthy lifestyle has positive mental affects. What serve members realized is that working out, staying fit and living a healthy lifestyle helped them cope better with the symptoms of PTSD. Going into the gym and working out hard really helps distress that individual. On a military deployment, after a long day of work or combat you often wanted to go back to the base and work out. It helps keep your mind off what you saw. It helps pass the time as you missed loved ones back home. And those nights when you couldn’t sleep, working out that day often help make it easier to sleep at night.

For me personally, that time in the gym; when I am working out hard, covered in sweat. Those moments of just me and the weights when I can let everything of the day or past experiences go. That time and those moments help me cope and deal with the stressors of war.

We can see the muscles and physical changes that fitness does to the body. But what we often forget is the unseen benefit fitness is towards our mental and emotional part. Using fitness and working out to help with PTSD is a perfect example of that. This weekend when you are out enjoying time with friends and family, remember those who sacrificed and hug a hero.