Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Global Inclusion and Social Development

First Advisor

Valerie Karr

Second Advisor

Lyn Litchke

Third Advisor

Jessie Bennett


Background/Objective: The growing prevalence of mental health issues in veterans has triggered a wide-spread effort to identify and provide complementary intervention strategies to increase help-seeking behavior in this population. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance use disorders (SUD) have become two of the most common mental health issues as a result of the demanding environment of military life. This study looks specifically at therapeutic recreation-based physical activity opportunities as a complementary treatment option for veterans at an increased risk for mental health issues.

Method: A correlational survey research design was used to examine relationships between factors of participation in different types of physical activities and three psychosocial measures for veterans at an increased risk of mental health issues: self-perceptions of depression, anxiety, and health-related quality of life (HRQoL). For physical activities, frequency, duration, intensity, and preference of sessions of traditional indoor fitness, outdoor adventure therapy, or mind-body practices were measured. A total of 102 participants completed an online survey.

Results: Significant negative correlations were found between physical activity and depression, specifically, the frequency of traditional indoor fitness sessions per week (p < .001), the duration of traditional indoor fitness sessions (p < .001), the number of outdoor sessions (p = .002), the number of overall sessions (p = .001), the frequency of strenuous sessions (p = .021) and the frequency of outdoor adventure therapy sessions (p < .001). Significant positive relationships were also found between physical activity factors and both physical and total HRQoL, specifically, the number of traditional indoor fitness sessions per week (p = < .001), the duration of indoor fitness sessions (p < .001) and the number of strenuous sessions for physical HRQoL (p = .002) and total HRQoL (p < .001). There were also positive significant relationships found between the frequency of outdoor adventure therapy sessions and total HRQoL (p < .001) and the duration of sessions and mental HRQoL (p < .001).

Conclusions: According to this study, traditional fitness and activities of strenuous intensity levels were associated with lower depression scores and overall higher HRQoL. Recommendations for future intervention studies are made to continue to find effective, evidence-based treatment for veterans with mental health issues.