Health Tips This MMA "Fight Club" helps veterans cope with PTSD

Research suggests that exercise is an effective means of coping with PTSD symptoms, so P.O.W. is its own type of therapy.

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Fight Club

(Twentieth Century Fox)
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​Todd Vance says martial arts saved his life—now he’s on a mission to help other veterans

In 2005—just 4 years after the September 11 attacks in New York—Todd Vance returned home from his deployment in Iraq. The army veteran was happy to be home, but what he had seen, heard, and done during the war slowly crept up on him, he told CNN.

For several months, Vance dealt with anxiety and extreme adrenaline rushes. He isolated himself from others and drank too much. Knowing something wasn’t right, he decided to speak with a counselor at his local Veterans Affairs center, where he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

He’s not alone: Between 11 to 20 percent of veterans who served in Iraq suffer from PTSD, a psychiatric disorder caused by traumatic events and experiences, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

To treat his symptoms, Vance was given mood-enhancers, sleeping pills, and anxiety meds, but he started to abuse those, too. Looking for an escape, he decided to reunite with his favorite high school sport—mixed martial arts.

“Martial arts 100 percent saved my life,” Vance told CNN.

“It gave me the structure, the discipline, the camaraderie, the routine that I needed to have in my life that I was missing so much from the military. Before training, I had no reason not to drink until 3:00 in the morning. I was training six days a week, often two times a day, and eating clean.”

Vance went back to school and earned his degree in social work. He combined his love for MMA with one of his biggest passions—helping other people, particularly veterans like him.

So in 2012, P.O.W. (Pugilistic Offensive Warrior Tactics) was born.

Research suggests that exercise is an effective means of coping with PTSD symptoms, so P.O.W. is its own type of therapy.

Vance offers free MMA classes for veterans three times a week at his downtown gym in San Diego.

The program, which has served nearly 300 veterans, includes peer-to-peer coaching and counseling. At the end of each class, everyone clears their mind with yoga.

The positive response has been overwhelming: After Vance conducted a one-year study on 30 veterans in the class, the benefits were obvious.

Their physical health improved by 90 percent and their stress and PTSD coping mechanisms improved by 80 percent. What’s more, all of the participants in the study felt less isolated.

Vance admits the entire experience has been therapeutic in itself, so as long as other veterans needs support, the doors of his “fight club” will remain open.

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