Meditation and Exercise Combo Works Better in Treating Women With Sexual Violence-Related PTSD
Researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey studied the effectiveness of mental and physical exercise in treating women with sexual violence-based PTSD, and have developed an effective intervention consisting of 20 minutes of meditation immediately followed by 30 minutes of aerobic exercise in one session.
Sexual violence, which affects 25 percent of all women, can cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition that incapacitates the victim with intrusive memories about the traumatic event, negative thoughts about oneself and others, increased sensitivity to environmental stimuli, and hypervigilance.
The combination treatment engages both the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system, which interact to maintain the body’s balance between stress and recovery from stress. During meditation, the participant activates the parasympathetic nervous system by relaxing, which reduces heart rate and blood pressure. During aerobic exercise, the participant activates the sympathetic nervous system, increasing the heart rate to send blood and oxygen to the muscles and brain.
Researchers found that the combined intervention significantly reduced trauma-related thoughts and ruminations while increasing feelings of self-worth in women — whether or not they had experienced sexual violence. However, the combination of meditation and exercise was most effective in treating women with sexual violence history, while meditation or exercise alone were not effective. The researchers speculate that the meditation component teaches participants to let go of negative thoughts while relaxing the body, and the exercise neurologically reinforces this newly learned behavior by increasing blood flow to the brain.