Exercise is medicine for mental health in military veterans: a qualitative commentary


This article provides a commentary on the current state of knowledge in the field of mental health, exercise and military veterans. A focus on veterans within the wider ‘exercise is medicine’ movement is warranted given the specific challenges (e.g., combat trauma, transition from military to civilian lifestyle, stigma of addressing mental health problems in the military) faced by many in this cohort.


Different approaches to treatment for mental health problems in military veterans continue to attract research attention. In addition to the NICE-approved treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder such as trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy and eye-movement desensitisation and reprocessing, a number of novel and innovative approaches have recently been developed. One such approach is encapsulated under the emerging paradigm of 'exercise as/is medicine'. Following recent calls to strengthen the evidence base for new and emerging mental health treatments for veterans, this paper presents a commentary on current evidence in support of 'exercise as medicine' derived from qualitative research studies. It is concluded that qualitative research has made a significant contribution to the emerging evidence base for exercise-based interventions. This evidence base can be used to inform current debates about quality assurance in the area of veterans' mental healthcare and to underpin quality provision for service users. Qualitative research also has a significant future contribution to make toward improving the evaluation of novel treatment approaches, generating more impactful research, and increasing the applicability of research findings in 'exercise as/is medicine'. The paper closes with some critical reflections on the role of exercise-based interventions as a means of helping veterans improve their mental health.

Full Reference

Caddick, N. and Smith, B. (2017) Exercise is medicine for mental health in military veterans: a qualitative commentary. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health. DOI: 10.1080/2159676X.2017.1333033.