Post-traumatic stress disorder, physical activity, and eating behaviors

Epidemiol Rev. 2015;37:103-15. doi: 10.1093/epirev/mxu011. Epub 2015 Jan 16.


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a prevalent and costly psychiatric disorder, is associated with high rates of obesity and cardiometabolic diseases. Many studies have examined PTSD and risky behaviors (e.g., smoking, alcohol/substance abuse); far fewer have examined the relationship between PTSD and health-promoting behaviors. Physical activity and eating behaviors are 2 lifestyle factors that impact cardiometabolic risk and long-term health. This comprehensive review of the literature (1980-2014) examined studies that reported physical activity and eating behaviors in adults with PTSD or PTSD symptoms. A systematic search of electronic databases identified 15 articles on PTSD-physical activity and 10 articles on PTSD-eating behaviors in adults. These studies suggest that there may be a negative association among PTSD, physical activity, and eating behaviors. Preliminary evidence from 3 pilot intervention studies suggests that changes in physical activity or diet may have beneficial effects on PTSD symptoms. There was considerable heterogeneity in the study designs and sample populations, and many of the studies had methodological and reporting limitations. More evidence in representative samples, using multivariable analytical techniques, is needed to identify a definitive relationship between PTSD and these health behaviors. Intervention studies for PTSD that examine secondary effects on physical activity/eating behaviors, as well as interventions to change physical activity/eating behaviors that examine change in PTSD, are also of interest.

Keywords: PTSD; binge eating; diet; exercise; health outcomes; health promotion; nutrition; prevention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diet / psychology*
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*