June is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month, and cities, hospitals and organizations across the country are holding events to raise awareness of PTSD symptoms and treatments.
Although PTSD can affect many people, it is especially prevalent among veterans. More than 20 percent of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD, according to the National Center for PTSD.
Fortunately, there are ways that the fitness industry can help. Research has shown that exercise can be used to treat PTSD, and facilities ranging from Veterans Administration hospitals to university recreation centers to health clubs now offer fitness programs to meet veterans' needs.
Travis Cox, director of the Heroes Project, a Carrollton, TX-based nonprofit organization that provides fitness equipment and health club memberships to veterans, knows from personal experience that fitness can be life-changing for veterans.
Cox, who served as a U.S. Marine Corps scout sniper and a special operations assistant team leader in Iraq, says he faced his own struggles after returning from combat but living a healthy lifestyle helped him adjust. He now works to bring healing to other veterans through exercise.
"It gives you a healthy outlet," Cox says. "It gives you something to do that's productive. It forces the veteran to own their issues and work through them with action. These are veterans that have put their lives on the line and been very proactive in the betterment of this world, and it just makes sense that they can be proactive with improving their lives."
The Heroes Project provides free in-home fitness equipment, health club memberships, individualized fitness programs, personal training and life coaching to veterans with disabilities or PTSD, as well as families that have lost a loved one in combat.
Veterans may struggle to get access to fitness equipment once they return home, Cox says, since many live in small towns or rural areas that do not have fitness facilities. Others might feel self-conscious exercising in front of people because of scars or injuries they received during deployment.
For veterans who need or prefer to exercise at home, the Heroes Project supplies equipment for in-home gyms. The gyms are customized to meet the veterans' fitness needs and fit the space available, but they often include a piece of commercial cardio equipment, free weights and accessories.
Since the equipment donation effort began a year ago, Cox estimates 30 people and families have been helped. Many veterans in the Dallas area also benefit from weekly support groups the Heroes Project offers.
Now the organization is expanding its mission by raising money to open its first fitness facility in partnership with the Roever Foundation, a Fort Worth, TX-based charity that assists veterans. The gym, which will be added to the Roever Foundation's existing building, will serve 1,200 veterans annually. It will be named the Chris Kyle Gym in honor of Chris Kyle, former U.S. Navy SEAL Team 3 chief, best-selling author and co-founder of the Heroes Project, who died in February.
For more information about how your facility can help people coping with PTSD, read the National Center on Heath, Physical Activity and Disability's guidelines or visit the National Center for PTSD's website.