For police officers and military veterans who have experienced trauma, the mental health benefits of team sports and physical fitness cannot be overstated.
PTSD is a serious condition that can make it difficult to enjoy life, maintain relationships, and hold down a job; but, through regular exercise and participating in team sports, those who suffer from PTSD can improve their mood, reduce anxiety, and reclaim their lives. I have witnessed this first hand and cannot overstate the importance of getting physically active for positive mental health.
Police officers (and first responders in general) are often exposed to traumatic events on a regular basis, whether it’s responding to domestic violence calls, investigating homicides, or dealing with the aftermath of accidents. The first time I did CPR on someone, I was a volunteer EMT and did not even have my driver’s license yet. I’ll never forget the family crying in the same room while my father and I attempted to resuscitate a man who was a grandfather to the kids in the other room and a father to the adults in the room with us. This scene would play out over and over and over again as I pursued a lifetime of public service.
The constant exposure to these situations can lead to PTSD, which can be incredibly difficult to manage, especially when you pretend it doesn’t exist (which we cops are the BEST at doing). Similarly, military veterans who have experienced combat have a higher risk of developing PTSD. Witnessing death and destruction, and feeling constantly on edge in a combat environment can take a toll on mental health.
So what can we do? How can we get started on a path to recovery; especially when we are, perhaps, not yet ready to talk to someone and open up about some of the struggles we are truly experiencing?
My answer? #GoToTheGym
Physical exercise has been shown to have a positive impact on mental health, including reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. And we don’t need a scientific study to tell us what we know is obvious. We have all experienced the endorphin rush and the positive “high” we feel after a great workout or a great sports game. For police officers and veterans who are dealing with PTSD, engaging in regular physical activity can be a critical part of their treatment plan.
Team sports are especially valuable for those who suffer from PTSD. Joining a team can provide a sense of belonging and camaraderie, which can be critical for those who feel isolated or disconnected. Participating in a sport also provides a sense of purpose and accomplishment, which can help rebuild self-esteem and confidence. This is particularly why I like CrossFit – which feels akin to a team sport.
It’s important to note that while exercise and team sports can be valuable tools in managing PTSD, they are not a substitute for professional treatment. If you are struggling with PTSD, it’s important to seek help from a mental health professional who can provide a comprehensive treatment plan.
And if you are not ready for that, call a friend.
And if you are not ready for that….go to the fucking gym!
You’ll feel better and maybe tomorrow, you can call a friend. And if they won’t answer, you can always call me.
For more on PTSD, visit our Free Resources Page Here.
You can also check out our book, “Lessons in Cadence”. You can find it on Amazon or by going to https://www.lessonsincadence.com
About Eric Basek
Eric is the co-founder of Stay Safe Foundation, a former law enforcement officer and a current Coast Guard reservist. He is the author of “Lessons in Cadence,” and is passionate about helping people better themselves through fitness. Eric is our director’s husband, and dad to Logan and their dog Rajah. They live in Florida.