Examining Comorbidities, Activity Level, and Interest in Exercise Programs Between Combat and Non-Combat Veterans in the Kansas City Area Renee Freeman, SPT; Kristine Ingraham, SPT; Mackenzie Lampe, SPT; Kelsey Mager, SPT; Amanda Schutter, SPT Faculty Mentor: Jean Hiebert, PT, Ph.D.
Purpose: Of the 21 million Americans veterans living in the United States, more than 10% have received mental health treatment and are 2-3 times more likely to have a substance abuse problem compared to the general population. According to the Pew Research Center, 54% of combat veterans have difficulty adjusting to civilian life while 49% report their health status as fair to poor. Exercise has significant positive effects on emotional and physical well-being, however, the benefits of exercise in the veteran population has not been studied extensively. Because sedentary lifestyles are known to increase the risk of comorbidities, the purpose of this study was to identify the prevalence of comorbidities and sedentary behavior in combat vs. non-combat veterans in the Kansas City area and to determine if veterans are interested in participating in an exercise program and the types of programs in which they are interested.
Subjects: Thirty veterans between the ages of 20-80 years (mean age 57.3 + 1.8) living in the Kansas City community.
Methods and Materials: Veterans provided baseline demographics and medical histories, including coexisting comorbidities. Comorbidities included: migraines, dizziness, hearing loss, hypertension, osteoarthritis, low back pain, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and gastrointestinal disorders. They then completed the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI), Rapid Assessment of Physical Activity (RAPA), and Dizziness Handicap Index (DHI) surveys in randomized order. Mann-Whitney tests analyzed differences in comorbidities between non-combat and combat veterans. Level of interest in exercise programs, type of exercise, and group vs. individual exercise interest was determined using frequency distributions.
Results: Combat veterans had a significantly higher prevalence of migraines (37%) and hearing loss (63%), however, PTSD was the only comorbidity that was significantly different between combat and non-combat groups (p=0.04). No differences were noted between groups in sleep quality or complaints of dizziness. Based on the RAPA, 36% of combat veterans report sedentary or underactive lifestyles compared to 21% of non-combat veterans. Of all veterans interviewed, 27% reported a sedentary or underactive lifestyle. All participants were interested in biking, walking, and lifting weights within their community. Although walking was the most common form of exercise in combat veterans, only 16% of them were actively involved in walking programs compared to 43% of non-combat veterans. There was more interest in lifting weights (24%) and walking (20%) in non-combat veterans, while combat veterans showed more interest in biking (18%), recreational sports (18%), and walking (18%).
Conclusions: PTSD was significantly higher in combat veterans compared to non-combat veterans. Veterans were interested in lifting weights, biking, recreational sports, and walking. Data generated from this project can be used to develop exercise programs tailored toward veterans’ interests.
Acknowledgements: We would like to thank the veterans who participated in the study as well as for their service to our country. We would also like to thank Angela Gargaro and Christopher Salavitch from the University of Kansas Medical Center, with whom we collaborated on this study.