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J Trauma Stress. 2018 Feb;31(1):134-145. doi: 10.1002/jts.22253. Epub 2018 Feb 1.

Psychobiological Responses to Aerobic Exercise in Individuals With Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

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Department of Kinesiology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, USA.
Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA.


Previous reports have shown improvements in mood and increases in endocannabinoids in healthy adults following a session of aerobic exercise, but it is unclear whether adults with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experience similar responses. The purpose of this study was to examine psychobiological responses (plasma endocannabinoids [eCBs], mood, and pain) to aerobic exercise in a sample of adults with a diagnosis of PTSD (n = 12) and healthy controls (n = 12). Participants engaged in an aerobic exercise session in which they ran on a treadmill for 30 min at a moderate intensity (70 to 75% maximum heart rate [MHR]). Results indicated improvements in mood states and reductions in pain for both groups following exercise, ds = 0.19 to 1.53. Circulating concentrations of N-arachidonylethanolamine (AEA), 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), and oleoylethanolamide (OEA) significantly increased (ps = .000 to .050) following the aerobic exercise session for both groups. There were no significant time, group, or interaction effects (ps = .062 to .846) for palmitoylethanolamide (PEA) and 2-oleoylglycerol (2-OG). Although eCBs increased significantly for both groups, within-group effect size calculations indicated the healthy controls experienced a greater magnitude of change for AEA when compared with adults with PTSD, d = 1.21 and d = 0.45, respectively; as well as for 2-AG, d = 0.43 and d = 0.21, respectively. The findings from this study indicated that adults with and without PTSD reported significant mood improvements following 30 min of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise. In addition, the endocannabinoid system was activated in adults with and without PTSD, although effect sizes suggest that adults with PTSD may have a blunted endocannabinoid response to exercise.


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