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Health Watch: Finding out what triggers, eases PTSD


After losing 29 Marine brothers in Iraq, infantryman Mike Ergo returned home to California with a severe case of PTSD. 

Featured in NBC’s coverage of the 2017 Ironman competition in Kona, Hawaii, Mike shared how he successfully deals with his stress disorder: “When I started running again, I felt good,” he said. “I think endurance sports (are) almost the perfect prescription for PTSD.”

We’re getting closer all the time to finding out why that is. A lab study from Texas A&M University examined how neurons in the brain that cause feelings of fear to get stirred up again (that’s called a fear relapse) are activated by everyday stress — and how such stress also dampens down brain areas that usually reduce fear. It’s a dastardly duo for sure, but one that finally provides a clearer explanation of how and why stress-relieving aerobic exercise helps control PTSD.

Although we’ve known for a long time that the prefrontal cortex regulates behavior, thought and emotion, this enhanced understanding can lead to new treatments for PTSD, not just for soldiers, but for victims of various traumatic events, from car accidents to a cancer diagnosis.

In the meantime, anyone contending with PTSD (over 13 million Americans have the condition at any given time) should develop an aerobics regimen and use other emotion-soothing techniques, such as meditation, acupuncture, massage therapy, even breathing deeply, to change their response to stressors.

These work by causing your body to produce soothing endorphins. They’re a good complement to cortisol-dispelling aerobic exercise.


In an episode of the 1990s sitcom “News Radio,” co-anchor Bill McNeal (Phil Hartman) wants to stop smoking, while news director Dave Nelson (Dave Foley) attempts to give up coffee. It’s clear they aren’t going to help each other become successful when Bill says: “Come on, Dave. We went a full nine and half hours. Must we continue this little charade?”

Even though those two failed, quitting a bad habit is easier when you have a buddy. The key is that you and your buddy have to be committed to success for both of you.

In one study of 109 people, folks on a diet with weight-loss buddies who were successfully shedding pounds lost twice as much weight as dieters who went it alone. Another study found that having a new workout buddy can skyrocket your commitment to exercise regularly. There’s also the study that found the odds of quitting smoking are nearly sixfold higher for couples who quit together than for someone who tries to break the habit solo.

So, how do you find a supportive, like-minded buddy?

>> Ask friends and family if they would like to join you.

>> Join groups dedicated to your goal. For example, explore the Obesity Action Coalition or Nicotine Anonymous, or ask a trainer at your gym for help finding another member to buddy up with.

>> Once you have a buddy, write down your individual goals and a realistic timeline. Then pledge to help keep each other on track or get back on track — no judgment!

Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email questions to

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