Effects of an Exercise and Sport Intervention Among Refugees Living in a Greek Refugee Camp on Mental Health, Physical Fitness and Cardiovascular Risk Markers: a Randomized Controlled Trial

What effect does a randomized controlled trial of a sport and exercise intervention among refugees living in a Greek refugee camp have on PTSD symptoms?

Project Summary

In recent years, more people have been forced to flee their home countries because of violence, hunger, and misery than in the aftermath of the Second World War. Due to ongoing political and social conflicts, this upward trend is likely to continue in the future. Refugees are exposed to severe mental and physical strain, as well as traumatic experiences during their journey. As a consequence, the risk of psychiatric disorders is markedly increased among international refugees with particularities based on gender.

International organizations have criticized the lack of early interventions as a key problem, because untreated mental disorders are often difficult to cure at a later stage. Today, exercise and sport have been successfully employed to treat a wide range of psychiatric disorders. With PTSD patients, however, very limited empirical evidence exists, and studies carried out with international refugees are nearly non-existent. 

In 2017, we have implemented a first pilot study in a Greek refugee camp using a one-group pre-test/post-test design. This study showed that an exercise and sport intervention is feasible and corroborated the potential benefits of exercise and sport on refugees’ mental health and cardiorespiratory fitness. Nevertheless, there is a great need for studies with stronger research designs. Therefore, in this project we will use a randomized controlled trial (RCT) design to examine the following questions:

 

  • Does a 3-month sport and exercise intervention among refugees living in a Greek refugee camp reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder?
  • Does a 3-month sport and exercise intervention have a positive impact on a series of further outcomes including perceived stress, depressive symptoms, anxiety, sleep complaints, health-related quality of life, pain, cardiorespiratory fitness, upper-body muscular strength, physical activity, cognitive function and cardiovascular risk markers?
  • How can we develop a standardised exercise and sport program that takes into account the cultural particularities of the target population?

 

By moving towards the primary prevention of chronic physical conditions and psychiatric disorders, a relevant contribution can be done to enhance the quality and quantity of life of Greek refugee camp residents. The findings of our study may also strengthen the evidence for exercise as medicine as a holistic care option in refugee camps, by helping camp residents to adopt and maintain a physically active lifestyle.

Research Team

Markus Gerber
Coordinator
University of Basel

Roland von Känel
Co-Coordinator
University of Zurich

Marianne Meier
Principal Member
University of Applied Science North-West (FHNW)

Antonis Hatzigeorgiadis
Principal Member
University of Thessaly

Ioannis D. Morres
Principal Member
University of Thessaly

Florian Knappe
Principal Member
University of Basel

Uwe Pühse
Associated Member
University of Basel

Dominique de Quervain
Associated Member
University of Basel

Sebastian Ludyga
Associated Member
University of Basel

Flora Colledge
Associated Member
University of Basel

Harald Seelig
Associated Member
University of Basel

Yannis Thodorakis
Associated Member
University of Thessaly

Status

ongoing

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