Exercise, Not Smoking Benefit Childhood Trauma Survivors’ Well-being

The long-term negative consequences of adverse childhood experiences are well documented, but a recent study focusing on adult survivors of childhood trauma has brought a new perspective to understanding what might promote their well-being.

Adult survivors of childhood trauma, including childhood sexual abuse, who reported physical activity and not smoking may be more likely to report greater overall health than survivors who did not, according to a study led by a researcher at the School of Public Health at Georgia State University.

The results of the study are published in the article “Utilizing the salutogenic paradigm to investigate well-being among adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse and other adversities,” published in Child Abuse & Neglect. The study’s lead author is Dr. Shanta R. Dube, associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Georgia State University.

shanta dube

Dr. Shanta Dube

“The time has come to put forth energy and focus on utilizing trauma-informed approaches for healing and promoting well-being among persons who survived childhood adversities,” Dr. Dube stated in the study.

To assess the correlation between four health-promoting factors­—physical activity, smoking abstinence, education level and socio-emotional support—and positive self-rated health among adult survivors of childhood trauma, researchers analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2010 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. The study looked at more than 13,000 adults who reported experiencing at least one form of childhood abuse or other childhood toxic stress.

The study notes that exercise and smoking abstinence are evidence-based approaches to promoting health and preventing disease. They also noted that previous research indicates people who experienced childhood adversities are more likely to smoke, underscoring the importance of tobacco control, prevention, and cessation efforts for this population.

In addition to the positive effects of physical activity and smoking abstinence, the study also found that adult survivors with college education reported fewer mentally and physically unhealthy days than those who did not graduate from high school.

“Building intellectual capacity for problem solving, critical thinking, and resourcefulness begins early in the lifespan; for trauma survivors learning new skills has been documented as a salient factor in the healing and recovery literature,” the study stated.

The study also found that frequent social and emotional support was associated with higher subjective well-being, which researchers said is not surprising given previous studies’ findings that positive support is critical for healing and recovery.

The greatest potential for health benefits depends on adult survivors engaging in at least two of the four health-promoting factors, the study stated, but it cautioned that additional intervention research with rigorous study designs is needed to determine the impact of different combinations.

Dr. Shobhana Rishi, a consultant with Omkar Mission Research Institute and currently working at the California Department of Education is also an author.

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