Original Research

High physical activity is associated with post-traumatic stress disorder among individuals aged 15 years and older in South Africa

Karl Peltzer, Supa Pengpid
South African Journal of Psychiatry | Vol 25 | a1329 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajpsychiatry.v25i0.1329 | © 2019 Karl Peltzer, Supa Pengpid | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 02 October 2018 | Published: 21 October 2019

About the author(s)

Karl Peltzer, HIV/AIDS/STIs and TB Research Programme, Human Sciences Research Council, Pretoria, South Africa; and, Department of Research and Innovation, University of Limpopo, Turfloop, South Africa
Supa Pengpid, Department of Research and Innovation, University of Limpopo, Turfloop, South Africa; and, ASEAN Institute for Health Development, Mahidol University, Salaya, Thailand


Background: Some research seems to suggest that physical activity (PA) was beneficial for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Aim: This study examined the association between levels of PA and PTSD among individuals 15 years and above in South Africa.

Setting: Community-based survey sample representative of the national population in South Africa.

Methods: In all, 15 201 individuals (mean age 36.9 years) responded to the cross-sectional South African National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (SANHANES-1) in 2012.

Results: One in five (20.1%) of participants reported exposure to at least one traumatic event in a lifetime, and 2.1% were classified as having a PTSD, 7.9% fulfilled PTSD re-experiencing criteria, 3.0% PTSD avoidance criteria and 4.3% PTSD hyperarousal criteria. Almost half (48.1%) of respondents had low PA, 17.4% moderate PA and 34.5% high PA. In logistic regression analysis, adjusted for age, sex, population group, employment status, residence status, number of trauma types, problem drinking, current tobacco use, sleep problems and depressive symptoms, high PA was associated with PTSD (odds ratio [OR] = 1.75, confidence interval [CI] = 1.11–2.75), PTSD re-experiencing symptom criteria (OR = 1.43, CI = 1.09–1.86) and PTSD avoidance symptom criteria (OR = 1.74, CI = 1.18–2.59), but high PA was not associated with PTSD hyperarousal symptom criteria. In generalised structural equation modelling, total trauma events had a positive direct and indirect effect on PTSD mediated by high PA, and high PA had a positive indirect effect on PTSD, mediated by psychological distress and problem drinking.

Conclusion: After controlling for relevant covariates, high PA was associated with increased PTSD symptomatology.


physical activity; post-traumatic stress symptoms; adolescents; adults; cross-sectional population survey; South Africa


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Crossref Citations

1. A Concise Occupational Mental Health Screening Tool for South African Workplaces
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