Veterans Group Exercise (VGX) Study:
Integrative Treatment for Veterans with PTSD

2016 Update: The research pilot has been completed, and the results are in! Compared to a waitlist control, integrative exercise improved PTSD symptoms and psychological quality of life. It also resulted in increased mindfulness and interoceptive body awareness. A larger study will now be undertaken, primarily funded by the US Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Research and Development, Rehabilitation Research and Development Service. Since this grant does not cover 100% of the expenses for this trial, we are raising additional funds through philanthropy. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation.

War has terrible consequences on societies, families and individuals. We hear in the news about the escalating number of suicides, the domestic violence incidents, and the mass shootings. How can we provide better care to our veterans who are returning home with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Although a large body of evidence shows that exercise is an effective treatment for many PTSD symptoms, including insomnia (which affects 90% of those suffering from PTSD), anxiety, and depression, few controlled trials have studied the effect of exercise on people with PTSD. With your support, we intend to remedy this deficiency in both research and treatment of our veterans.

The Veterans Group Exercise (VGX) project is a collaborative effort between UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine and the San Francisco Veterans Administration Medical Center (VAMC).  Dr. Tom Neylan of the VAMC and Dr. Margaret Chesney of the Osher Center are developing a new integrative medicine protocol to reduce suffering (and expense) in the treatment of PTSD among veterans.  This 12-week pilot study will look at the effect of Integrative Exercise on veterans with PTSD.

Integrative Exercise integrates western cardio exercises and power yoga with techniques from Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, particularly concentration on deep mindful breathing and awareness of how the breath joins the body and mind.  Thus, Integrative Exercise combines the positive effects of both Western and Eastern wellness traditions, takes a mind-body approach.

This pilot study will provide us with clear evidence of the effectiveness of the intervention on reducing PTSD symptoms, including sleep disturbances, and volume of the hippocampal subfields of the brain.  Grant applications requesting funds for large randomized clinical trials are typically only funded when evidence of feasibility and data suggesting efficacy are provided via a pilot study. After this preliminary study, we will submit a grant proposal for a larger randomized clinical trial to the National Institutes of Health and/or the Department of Defense.  A successful large randomized study could have a dramatic impact on the treatment of veterans with PTSD across the country.

Our specific aims are as follows:

  • Test the effect of Integrative Exercise therapy on PTSD symptoms in men and women veterans
  • Examine the effect of Integrative Exercise therapy on sleep in veterans with PTSD symptoms
  • Examine the effect of Integrative Exercise therapy on volume of the brain’s hippocampus in veterans with PTSD symptoms
  • Examine the effect of Integrative Exercise therapy on other PTSD symptoms in veterans with PTSD symptoms

Additional support for this project will allow for the expansion of bio-marker testing of study participants, such as brain scanning, stress-hormone testing, etc.


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